Social-Distancing and Olympia’s Teens

Cayli Yanagida, Editor-in-Chief

While scrolling through any form of social media, as any average American student has done during quarantine in the Covid-19 pandemic, something similar will pop up in the feed of all high school students’ social media. Begging to be seen, these posts will beat Instagram’s unreliable algorithm or Snapchat’s chronological story order, fighting its way to the very top. And, of course, the posts, in picture form, usually depict multiple people together- all laughing, smiling, and posing- and definitely not staying six feet apart. 

It’s a beautiful depiction of exactly what people are not supposed to be doing right now. During the last few months, Americans have been hunkering down in their homes to work, eat, sleep, and repeat in a drastic measure to stop the rising number of coronavirus cases. However, just as many Americans have been ignoring social-distancing rules, going about their daily lives as if they are invincible to the disease. This has especially been common in teens: some have been acting as if the quarantine, which put school on hold, is just the start of a very long summer vacation. 

With in-person education cancelled for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year in the Olympia School District, disregard for the social-distancing guidelines has been a common occurrence in Olympia. Capital High School senior Anna Kazanchev said she has seen many social media posts showing teens congregating, and therefore, being disrespectful to essential workers. 

“It is frustrating seeing individuals hanging out with their friends like it is a summer day,” Kazanchev said. “Essential workers are taking care of the American public, but the public is not taking care of them. People who do not follow social-distancing rules really scream to me that they do not care about essential workers and are taking advantage of them.”

Kazanchev, who plans to become a pediatrician, said her position as a future essential worker in the medical field has made the problem become “personal” for her. As well, with parents who are currently essential workers, Kazanchev said she doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring the social-distancing guidelines when she has loved ones at risk. However, she acknowledged that other high school students have not been social-distancing for many different reasons. 

“They are young, so they see COVID-19 not as life-threatening to them,” she said. “In addition, students were going to school and socializing with their friends five days a week. Suddenly not seeing anyone after being accustomed to this lifestyle can be a burden.” 

This is understandable, as students in Washington State originally thought they would be returning to school after a six-week quarantine, which began on March 13. With schools closed for the remainder of the school year, it’s an unfortunate outcome for high school students, especially seniors, who are unable to enjoy classic events like Senior Prom and a traditional high school graduation.

However, as of late May, students are growing increasingly anxious in quarantine. With the knowledge that Phase 2 of reopening is on the horizon, scheduled as of June 1, some OSD students who were staying in quarantine from mid-March to late May have now decided to meet with friends without following the social-distancing guidelines. However, many do not seem to realize or care that Phase 2 for Thurston County has not yet begun. 

Lacey Fehrenbach, who is the Agency Administrator for Covid Response for Washington State, said this is worrisome. 

“When people, including young people, choose to not follow that guidance, it makes us worry that they are putting themselves and their immediate family and household members at increased risk for Covid,” Fehrenbach said. As well, Fehrenbach said gatherings, which will be socially acceptable once Phase 2 begins, should have limitations. 

“Thurston county is not one yet,” she said, “but for those counties who have moved into Phase 2, we are recommending that you do not gather with more than five people outside of your household.” 

This applies to everyone, as well as students who have ecstatically posted their gatherings of ten people or more to social media, basking in the sun near a lake whilst smiling, laughing, and breathing all over one another.

Although Covid-19 has proven to be less harmful toward younger people on average, adolescents and children are not completely immune. In early May, New York governor Andrew Cuomo reported the deaths of three children who died due to respiratory illnesses linked to Covid-19. So, although teens are not the most impacted demographic, it is very easy for the disease to spread from an unknowing teen to a young child, an older individual, or a person who has pre-existing medical issues. 

As well, the point of reopening Thurston county in phases is to limit the amount of exposure to the virus while slowly adjusting back into normal life. This will not be effective if people misinterpret Phase 2, and the allowance of social-distancing with five people a week, as a complete return to the way life was before Covid-19. The lack of phasing that some teens have exhibited when meeting with friends, as well as the slow reopening of non-essential businesses, will generate more social interactions. This can possibly add to the likelihood of a second wave. 

Fehrenbach said this is possible. 

“I think we have to be prepared for a second wave to happen,” she said. “Certainly, as more sectors reopen as we go through the four phases of the Safe Start Plan, and as additional counties come online in each of those phases, we definitely need to make sure we are following all of the community mitigation strategies that are expected across all four phases.” 

As June 1 approaches, teens are becoming increasingly excited to be able to see friends and celebrate the end of the school year. However, social-distancing guidelines will still remain, and everyone should be doing their best to prevent the virus from spreading.

“It is a delicate balancing act of both opening up and allowing the economy to restart,” Fehrenbach said, “and people to have some return to what looks like a more normal, traditional public life doing the things we love doing with other people.”