Fabiola Santiago: Ignoring this may kill you: Young people also are dying from COVID-19 infection

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When young people beat you up for telling them the truth about the coronavirus — that they, too, can acquire the disease, need hospitalization, and die from COVID-19 if they don’t practice social distancing — we’re in another kind of pandemic.

This one is of immense selfishness, recklessness, and at this extreme, criminality.

The beating in the head with baseball bats of a 61-year-old father and his 21-year-old daughter happened on an island off Key West, Fla., after the two approached a large group described as college-aged kids drinking and partying.

The group of about 20 had traveled on three center-console boats to undeveloped Wisteria Island, reports Florida Keys News. The father and daughter, also anchored there, approached them about the importance of social distancing and the rule about no more than 10 people to a gathering.

Some of the partiers unleashed their fury on them. They had to be treated at a hospital.

One can only hope the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is taking the violence seriously, investigating and not brushing it off as a prank by bored college kids with access to boats. And no, the fact that the father-daughter also told them to keep the noise down doesn’t mitigate the assault.

You, too, might be tempted to dismiss the violence as a freakish event.

Ah, that’s the sort of wacky thing that happens in Margaritaville, you might tell yourself, taking a sip of your homemade, coronavirus happy-hour pina colada.

But this is only one of the more egregious examples we’re seeing in Florida: Some young people are not taking the pandemic seriously in a state with 14,743 confirmed cases of coronavirus, as of this writing, and 296 deaths.

I’m not talking just about the spring breakers coming to Florida — and going home to potentially spread the novel coronavirus in their own communities, as we’ve seen dramatically portrayed by a phone data company that tracked their movement from Fort Lauderdale to various points in the United States and Canada.

Ordinary moms are telling me their teenagers and young adults are hard to control in isolation — and are blowing right through the government orders to isolate, quarantining at home. Just because they can.

One of the most concerning things I’ve heard recently came from a friend who told me that she can’t control her 20-year-old son. He leaves the house, purportedly to be with a girlfriend and a friend, and sometimes doesn’t come back for two days. She doesn’t know who or how many people he has been in contact with during this time.

This mother is in her 50s and has an immune compromised system. She has explained this to him.

“I’m desperate,” she told me. “I don’t know what to do anymore.”

The angst in her voice is palpable.

Young people think themselves invincible and unaccountable, and are carrying on as if the spread of the disease isn’t going to affect them.

But their ignorance and the me-first attitude may cost them and their loved ones their lives. This pandemic is that serious. There is so much scientists don’t yet know about it.

The accounts from Italy — and in this hemisphere, Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they celebrated Carnival and took to the beaches — make it clear that keeping young people from spreading the coronavirus is key to containment.

They may be asymptomatic carriers and not know it — until it’s too late.

As the novel coronavirus spread all over the world, the concern over severe, deadly cases in the elderly underplayed the risk to others.

But we’re way past that point now.

Nearly 40% of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the United States are ages 20-54, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The risk of dying may still be significantly higher for the elderly, but right here in South Florida, the state’s epicenter, we’ve seen young people die, too, and the number of the contaminated skew younger.

In Broward, for example, Deputy Shannon Bennett died from COVID-19 complications. He was only 39 and to be married in December.

In Palm Beach, Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala, 38 and a father of three, also died, infected with the virus as he was dealing with other health issues, according to family and a news release from the County Sheriff’s Office.

A 28-year-old man in Sarasota County became the youngest in the state to die when he was among the 85 deaths reported on March 31.

And, amid the newer confirmed COVID-19 cases is a baby girl whose age is listed as zero. What a way to start life.

For almost a month now, the more responsible, concerned and informed among us have been practicing some form of social distancing.

As we get closer to a peak, it’s time that all young people joined us.

No one has immunity.

Generation Z, foolishness only proves how much growing up you still have to do.

It’s more tempting than ever to live for the moment in unpredictable times of doom.

But your life has value and purpose beyond this moment.

You, too, have a role to play in the pandemic, perhaps one of the most important: Assist in the tough job of containment of this horrible disease.



Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


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