Young people didn't social distance because the government kept telling them not to worry

It hasn't been easy to convince any generation to take precautions against the coronavirus when everyone kept getting mixed messages from our government.
Image: Young People coronavirus, beach, spring break
Despite coronavirus warnings from government officials, many college students hung out on the beach in Myrtle Beach this month.Jason Lee / The Sun News via AP
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By Michael Arceneaux

When I saw the now viral clip of the smug spring breakers across Florida beaches partying it up and boasting about how unconcerned they were with the coronavirus, I joined the nation in booing and hissing.

I did not, however, join the chorus of folks who tried to make the spread of the virus a youth-oriented issue. The disease is spreading because the people in power — largely old white men — have failed the nation by not properly preparing for its effects in spite of dire warnings. They did not sound the alarm for Americans to start worrying and getting ready, so of course young people are on beaches risking it all; the people in charge have given them no real reason to give a damn.

Based on the daily news conference at the White House related to the federal government’s role in thwarting the rising chaos, I’d argue that they — other than Dr. Antony Fauci — look no less silly to me than those spring breakers, except that one side’s lack of seriousness poses lethal dangers.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the sight of those 20-somethings partying it up as we enter such a dark, uncertain and increasingly frightening time didn’t still piss me right off.

For one, I knew some would watch them and use it as another opportunity to bash millennials, in spite of the fact that none of the people in that clip were millennials. (Millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1996, are at least 24; most college students are Gen Z.) People love to talk about "millennials" ruining life as we know it by eating avocado toast regularly or whatever, but as the current situation reflects (for the second time in my adulthood), it’s government incompetence and gross economic inequality that undermines any stability in one's life, not the screw-ups of the youngest generation (whether mine or not).

Still, for the record, the overwhelming majority of millennials are not at the beach — we don’t have time for that. We are too busy trying to get our moms and dads to listen to use for a change and stay the hell in the house instead of … in some cases, going to the beach, as the fine older folks in this picture of Clearwater Beach did on St. Patrick's Day.

That is, of course, not to pretend that some millennials have been no less irresponsible than those who are younger or older than us. I know, as I have been not-so-secretly angry at some of my friends for treating the pandemic as much ado about nothing. I have tried not to be judgmental or scolding, but I am puzzled by how some people can go about their business without a care in the world for what’s happening around them. (Those people include: the friends who invited me to brunch last week and this week; the folks talking to me about whatever coronavirus conspiracy theory they heard from an R&B artist on Twitter; and the people going around outside and carrying on as if a lot of people are not about to die and nothing will ever be the same again.)

I understand that we all want to maintain some semblance of normalcy, but when the headlines start prophesying actual doom, when do you wake the hell up already, cancel your party plans and go get ready for the unknowable as best as possible?

(And since millennials have been invoked, before Gen Xers appear out of nowhere like in "Beetlejuice" — see, I made an age-appropriate reference as outreach — to remind everyone they have always been overlooked but nonetheless performed better than everyone else because they are used to these conditions, everyone give them a nice polite church clap. GenXers truly are treated like middle children; I’m a middle child, so I know.)

To all of you who have spent the last 10 days living it up, whether you are in your 20s, your 30s or your 60s, it should not have taken a new warning from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention nor increasingly harsh government restriction to keep us inside. None of us are not as immune to the coronavirus and, unfortunately, nearly 40 percent of those hospitalized for coronavirus thus far are younger adults, and 80 percent of the deaths, as of March 16, have been of people over 65. I’m afraid that so many people are going to learn the lesson that they are not invincible, nor as young as they'd like to believe, in the worst possible way.

All we can do now, though, is be better than we were the day before. So although I have been frustrated at the displays of selfishness from the young and obliviousness from my elders, we all could stand to be less into ourselves right now. We should all strive to be less inconsiderate because consideration of others is proving to be the only thing that will keep us alive, no matter our age.