Opinion: Blaming young people for making mistakes with this virus is unfair and unhelpful

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Dr Laura Durcan says it’s not just young people spreading Covid-19 – it’s lunch, brunch, christenings and all manner of social gatherings.

THE HIGHEST NUMBER of new cases since May. Here we go again?

As I sit watching my small children play I am reminded that, for me, very little has changed with Covid-19.

I get up, I go to work and I parent. The advent of a global pandemic has actually changed very little in my daily existence. Sure, I wear PPE to look after my patients, and everything is a little more pressured but day to day – my job, although altered – is not dramatically different.

I look after sick medical patients who require admission to hospital and rheumatology patients in clinic. We now look for Covid-19 under every rock, but the diseases that come for us all such as pneumonia, sepsis, heart attacks, strokes, faints, fits, fractures, and funny turns all still happen in the same way they always have.

What you see has changed

People’s perception of what we do in healthcare has changed, maybe because health is suddenly at the centre of every decision, but the truth at the coal face is that we have always been working away, and we will continue to do so.

Because that’s the job.

We don’t need claps, we need a well-staffed health service with infrastructure up to the task of taking care of the nation, in good days and in bad.

There are some groups of people that do need claps and for whom we need to consider praise and thanks rather than constantly finger-wagging and nagging. Our young people have endured a very difficult six months, often missing pivotal life events that will not come around again.

I think of the Leaving Cert students; they have missed the exam itself (that formative and often horror-inducing experience). They’ve also missed their graduation, having a summer job, maybe going on a post Leaving Cert holiday if they are lucky.

Most of us will remember the debs, the Leaving Cert results night and other pivotal events like the offers night, freshers week, long nights and early mornings which are major stepping stones in our social and personal development. They’ve had none of that this year.

Younger people have missed their friends and lost out on social interactions such as in nightclubs and parties. No meeting new people, having fun.

Compliance has been high

We know that young people are for the most part not as severely affected with Covid-19 as older folks. Although there is no one for whom this is a safe virus, statistically, those in their youth are much more likely to have an uncomplicated course.

So when we ask our young people to change their lives utterly and to forgo all that they enjoy, we are appealing to their humanity and asking them to do this for the greater good.

We are asking them to give up on huge amounts of their lives for the benefit of our frail, our older people, our vulnerable and people with underlying diseases. 

To their credit, they have been astonishingly compliant. They have toed the line. They have (for the most part) not rebelled. They have followed the advice. They have done the right thing.

We look to the exceptions, the stupid parties, and we judge and look for people to blame because that is easier than looking at ourselves and the ways in which we could all do better.

There has been no voice of revolt from our youth. We should thank them. In the same way we thank health service and frontline workers, people who have kept the show on the road.

We also need to thank all the people who have just done the right thing and stayed home. That has been tough. We are all starting to fray at the edges a little.

It has been a very difficult six months and there is no end in sight. We have to learn to live with this scary and all as that seems. We have to battle on and it is only together that we can do this. We are all responsible.

We are all capable of breaking the rules making other people sick. We can all be a vector for this awful disease. We can all make our loved ones sick. Even with the best possible practices some of us will likely become unwell and we need to make sure that we do not, in turn, infect large numbers of people.

This is not just young people. This is not just house parties. This is lunch, brunch, christenings, communions, birthday parties. This is anyone who is in our company closer than 2m for longer than 15 minutes.

Our younger people have cancelled their lives to keep us all safe, our older people have in many cases barricaded themselves in their house, missing precious months which become more valuable the fewer of them there are left. We all have our part to play.

Older people cannot stay locked up and society has to restart in a way that is unrecognisable. So we mask up, we obsessively use hand sanitiser and we keep our distance.

So let’s not look to blame and to judge, Let’s look to continue the fabulous work that has been done by all in the community.
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Let’s look at our own behaviours. Let’s look to being a force for good. Let’s implore our young people to keep up the good work. Everyone has vulnerable family members, every one of us could ourselves become very unwell.

Let’s clap for each other that we keep up the good work. Let’s clap for our young people and tell them that better times are ahead, let’s mind our old people and let’s come out of this with a stronger health service and pride in all that we have achieved together.

In the health service, we are grateful for all that you have done because this is why we were able to keep things going.

Claps back at you.

Dr Laura Durcan is a rheumatologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and an IHCA council member.

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