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Editorial: How young people can help stop pandemic, in SC and around the world

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To outlast the coronavirus pandemic, we need the cooperation of young people whose spring breaks have been extended indefinitely and who by nature are hard to convince of their own mortality, who take risks their older selves would not and who can’t always foresee the consequences of their actions.

Yes, young people appear to recover from COVID-19 infections better than others. So what’s the danger of ditching social distancing for a big party among 20-somethings? The answer: spreading the virus to the gray-hairs (and each other).

Young people can be contagious without feeling any symptoms and unwittingly pass around the respiratory virus among their contemporaries, who could then spread it to parents, grandparents — anyone they come in contact with.

Until the middle of last week, the beaches from Myrtle Beach to Miami looked pretty much the way they always do in March — full of young people from around the country, who typically overpack hotel rooms. Wisely, Florida’s governor first pleaded for their cooperation and announced the closing of all bars and nightclubs at 5 p.m. for at least 30 days. Then, he ordered most beaches closed statewide.

But, of course, many young people initially flouted the order to limit gatherings to 10 people. Police in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach had to block off some popular beaches and start patrolling the sands on all-terrain vehicles to enforce crowd limits.

Another problem is that most Spring Breakers won’t be going back to their campuses, but back to their homes far and wide.

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Because it is new among humans, the novel coronavirus is much more contagious than viruses that have been circulating among us for years. How much more contagious? Even epidemiologists can’t agree so far. That’s part of why the outbreak has triggered a national emergency.

We need young people and old to take this disease seriously. The pandemic is still in its early days. Even a small percentage of heedless young people could wreak havoc on the larger population.

Young people may be resilient, but they are not immune. According to preliminary statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20% of the people hospitalized for COVID-19 have been 20-44 years old. A newer analysis, released last week, showed that 38 percent of those sick enough to be hospitalized were younger than 55.

The public health threat of young people unwittingly spreading the virus is real, and it’s a challenge to impress upon them how vital it is for them to act responsibly in this pandemic. Still, parents of teenagers and young adults should make an effort to get this message across to protect everyone.

Law enforcement officers already have the tools to break up big, rowdy parties, and we expect them to use them where appropriate.

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