Alberta young people weigh in on what's behind the COVID-19 spike in their generation

As people under 40 have begun to overtake the majority of new cases of COVID-19 in the province, two young Calgarians spoke to CBC News about what they think is behind the increase.

The demographic now makes up more than half of new cases in the province

Calgarians Toney Bedell, left, and Jessica Revington fall into the demographic that makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the province. (CBC Calgary News at 6)

As people under 40 have begun to overtake the majority of new cases of COVID-19 in the province, two young Calgarians spoke to CBC News about what they think is behind the increase.

Rates of COVID-19 among Albertans between the ages of 20 and 39 have steadily increased since June.

As restrictions eased in time for patio season, the eerily quiet, physically distanced streets of Stephen Avenue and 17th Avenue S.W. began to bustle.

And Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, noted a common thread in the uptick of cases last month — many young people had been infected during social gatherings and parties where food and drinks were shared.

"COVID-19 loves a party, so we can't let our guard down," she said at the time, urging Albertans to continue to follow public health guidelines.

As summer came, vigilance waned

Calgarians Jessica Revington and Toney Bedell fall into the demographic that makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the province, and both say they take the pandemic seriously.

They shared observations about trends in precautionary measures amongst their peers with the Homestretch guest host Jim Brown on Friday, and noticed the vigilance among young people ebbed and flowed — and now, has ebbed again. 

"At first, people were a bit skeptical. Nobody really took it too seriously when things first started coming up, but then once they cancelled school … what I saw was this innate discipline, strictness, and dedication from a lot of my peers," Bedell said.

"A lot of my friends actually live with either grandparents, or their parents are a little bit on the older side. So, this really hit home for them … and what I really saw was this mutual understanding and agreement to make our quarantine a priority for them."

But then, Bedell — who studies at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan Campus — said that as summer came and the number of cases waned, so did that communal sense of responsibility.

"People have wanted to return to their everyday lives. School has kind of ended, so there's nothing to keep us busy anymore. So what you're seeing is a lot of people trying to get back outside, trying to continue with their lives," Bedell said.

"What I've also noticed is that a lot of people are now sort of diminishing the risk of the pandemic, so they're not taking it as seriously as they were before."

WATCH | CBC Calgary News at 6 host Rob Brown interviews Calgarians Jessica Revington and Toney Bedell on the rise in COVID-19 cases among young people:

COVID-19 among the younger population

2 years ago
Duration 10:15
Toney Bedell and Jessica Revington discuss why they think young adults are seeing more cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.

Jessica Revington has a degree in nursing, and is currently earning a second degree in biological sciences at the University of Calgary.

She said that the initial information about the spread of the virus, paired with the restrictions in place, frightened young people into adhering to advisories.

"At the beginning of COVID-19, when we were getting different information from the province [and] federally, we were scared. And we were making decisions to lock down and socially distance based on the information that we had in front of us," Revington said.

As the province began opening up, she said, it ushered in a false sense of normalcy.

"People make these risk assessments of whether it's safe to go out and meet up with friends, with family, based on the fact that things are starting to open up — and things are starting to trend back towards what could be considered normal," Revington said.

"[But] COVID hasn't gone away. The virus is still very prevalent, and I think that's something that's easy to forget as people are looking to the summer, looking to the weather outside, and looking to reconnect with friends and family that they've been distanced from."

Mask use not always prevalent

In June, Hinshaw said officials strongly encourage Albertans to wear masks in public places — and particularly in crowded areas.

A group of Alberta doctors also wrote an open letter to the provincial government asking that masks be made mandatory in all indoor spaces outside the home, in crowds and on public transit.

"Those jurisdictions that have a high masking rate actually are able to contain things without lockdowns and that's our biggest concern, is that we start reopening, we see a surge in cases," said Dr. Amy Tan, a family doctor with the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.

Amongst Revington's circle of friends, many of whom also work in healthcare, wearing a mask has been the norm during the pandemic.

They understand, she said, how effective they can be to protect others when worn properly.

But this is not the case for Bedell, who said a lot of his own peers are resistant and apathetic to the idea of wearing a mask.

"I know a lot of people are sort of not in favour of masks — especially a lot of people in my friend group, and a lot of my friends," Bedell said. 

"I feel like most people … believe that if it's happening to everybody else, but not happening to me or within my circle, then it most likely won't happen to me."

That isn't how Bedell perceives it. Wearing a mask, he said, is something of a civic duty.

"For me, I think that it's really our responsibility as citizens, and our responsibility as contributors to society, to make sure we're taking every measure that we can to prevent other people from being at risk from us," he said.

'We, ourselves, are influencers'

Bedell said he doesn't blame young people for wanting to hit a patio and see their friends, acknowledging the strain of quarantine on relationships and mental health. 

But the virus, he said, won't go away on its own.

"I can understand some people's desperation to get out, or they need to socialize," Bedell said.

"However, what I also do recognize is that because we're in unprecedented times, it calls for unprecedented action and unprecedented solutions. And so, that requires a lot of self-sacrifice on our part."

For her part, Revington worries young people won't understand the gravity of COVID-19 until it influences them.

"I think that there are a lot of people, unfortunately, that will not understand the actual physical impact of COVID-19 until it directly impacts them or a friend or a loved one," Revington said. 

Both agreed that for a generation that looks to influencers, messaging about precautions will be best received by young people when it comes from online personalities. 

But Revington suggested that young people also consider the impact they have by modelling behaviour for their own friends.

"We, ourselves, are influencers with our friends, with family. If our friends aren't wearing masks … or they don't understand the risks associated with COVID, then we are much less likely to take COVID seriously," Revington said.

"And if all you have to do is wear a mask, socially distance, [and] wash your hands, then hopefully together, we can get through this."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Jennifer Lee


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