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Calling young adults: why staying physically apart is so important, while connecting socially

Introduction by Croakey: From midnight tonight, Australians are expected to limit indoor and outdoor gatherings to two people, according to advice issued by the National Cabinet yesterday, which states and territories are expected to enact as mandatory.

Exceptions are allowed when people of the same household go out together, for funerals (a maximum of 10 people), weddings (a maximum of five people), and family units (it is not yet clear from the statement how this is defined). 

National Cabinet urged Australians to stay home unless unless:

  • shopping for what you need – food and necessary supplies
  • medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements
  • exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements
  • work and study if you can’t work or learn remotely.

The new social isolation measures, described yesterday as “radical” by Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy (watch this clip), came as the Australian Government’s released, finally, an app sharing news on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 (see details of how to download).

It is particularly urgent that young adults heed these messages, according to the authors below, from the Australian National University, University of Sydney and Burnet Institute, who also have some practical suggestions for how to maintain social connections.

They wrote this article because:

We are early and mid-career public health practitioners and researchers, with interests in behaviour, risk communication and epidemiology.

We are also friends and family members trying to support those in our network by remaining social, whilst also working through this pandemic.

We thought we’d share what we have learnt so far about how to continue being social.”


Meru Sheel, Samantha Carlson, Alyson Wright and Samuel McEwen write:

COVID-19 is a new disease, and we’re still learning about it. But one thing is clear; every individual, including younger adults (those aged 20-39 years), are susceptible. We also play a very important role in stopping transmission, so must commit to social distancing and to #StayAtHome.

To prevent the spread, the Australian Government has strongly urged us to change our individual behaviours. Social distancing  (or physical distancing as it is also called) is a critical response measure used in infectious disease control. This involves minimising the contact people have with each other each day in order slow or stop the spread of disease.

In Australia and around the world, we are witnessing exponential growth of those getting sick with COVID-19. Based on current estimates, one infected person will go on to infect two or three people, who will then in turn go on the infect two or three more people and so on. This has led to the dramatic increase in cases we are seeing nationally over the past few weeks.

Noting these transmission trends, if we can reduce the number of people infected, we will control the outbreak. Without an effective vaccine available, and in a population largely susceptible to COVID-19, social distancing is the one of the most effective tool to achieve this goal.

Elderly people and those with underlying conditions (regardless of age) are at greatest risk. Despite a potential lower severity in children and youth, it is the social responsibility of those not at the greatest risk and with the privilege to do so to protect themselves and others.

That’s why it’s extremely important for the younger adults (those in their 20s and 30s) to practise social distancing. This age group is already contributing to a large proportion of confirmed cases.

As of March 30, data on the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS) showed that one-in-three confirmed cases are people aged 20-39 years. Some cases are critical, but most are uncomplicated.

The most recent report on COVID-19 epidemiology and hospitalisation in Australia shows that 22 percent of those who are being hospitalised from COVID-19 in Australia are aged 30-39 years.

Yes, young adults can tragically get severe COVID-19.

(These data are updated here).

Humans are mostly social creatures. Being told to distance ourselves from our social network, for an indefinite amount of time, feels unnatural.

Young adults are in the age group that frequently attend weddings and parties, which have been signalled as significant hotspots for outbreaks.

Young adults also like to travel: in 2018-2019, the median age of those departing Australia was 40-41 years, and the largest group of visitor arrivals were aged between 25-29 years. The most common reason for departures and arrivals are social: holidays, followed by trips to visit friends and family. Most of our COVID-19 cases have been acquired by those travelling from Europe or the Americas.

Behavioural science suggests people don’t change their behaviour simply by receiving information. Sustained behavioural change is also difficult.  You need to have the skills, motivation, understanding, and opportunity to do so.

This is particularly difficult for those facing economic and social hardships caused by the pandemic.

Harder for some

The capability of a person or households to practise distancing is not equitably distributed.

In many crisis situations the most vulnerable are hit the hardest. This includes people from low socio-economic, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and the gig-economy workforce (now largely out of work)  who have the least capacity and resources to make social distancing a viable option in their day to day lives.

Families with large households living in small dwellings, might not be able to as readily be able to adopt principles of social distancing and demand special considerations.

For some communities, such as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities, connections and time spent with family are an integral part of culture and life.

Other who may struggle to adhere to social distancing are students who live in large share houses or residential accommodation with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. Some people who live alone are now unable to travel interstate or internationally; if we go into a complete lockdown, these people will be quite cut off from social connection and mental health impacts can be severe.

People facing difficult family situations may not feel safe to socially distance themselves at home with those who they live with for an uncertain period.  Many young adults also work in hospitality and retail and have now lost their jobs. They don’t have the economic freedom for social distancing. They are now in the heartbreaking lines of people lining up for Centrelink assistance.

Creative solutions

For those who can, we’ve seen very creative ways social that young adults stay connected, particularly those who live away from family and in apartments.

Technology and ‘social’ media can have a significant positive use and impact in the pandemic era. We asked those in our social networks how they’ve been connecting with their loved ones. Here’s some of their creative ideas.

Exercising: this has been done over Zoom where everyone follows the same at-home tutorial on YouTube. Even just being “old fashioned” and picking up the phone to loved ones whilst going on a walk outside at quiet times (and maintaining 1.5m from those around you).

Dining: young adults have been participating in ‘FaceWine’ and ‘virtual picnics’. This involves sharing a glass of wine or a picnic over FaceTime with a usual group of friends or family.

Entertainment: Netflix parties, sharing board game nights on Steam, or having house parties on House Party. We’ve seen people across the world connecting with their neighbours through music, including groups creating motivating Spotify playlists to help each other get through working from home.

Dating: this is still being done on the usual apps. There’s just a longer courtship period!

Forming connections: now is a good time to form connections with like-minded people. If you’re a student, reach out to peers and set up a regular Zoom meeting to work through the work together. You can also get to know your neighbour by chatting to them over the fence, across balconies, in the corridor, or via text messaging.

Continuing clear and accessible messaging from governments and community agencies is important in empowering the community to adopt distancing measures.

Young adults are resilient, tech savvy and creative.

We have the skills to ride this wave, even if it does seem inconvenient, distant and hard.

Not only can we do it; we must do it. Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water, clean household items regularly, and #StayAtHome.

Authors

  • Dr Meru Sheel is an infectious disease epidemiologist and has worked extensively in international public health emergencies and outbreaks including COVID19 in the Pacific. Follow @merusheel.
  • Samantha Carlson is a PhD Scholar at University of Sydney with expertise in behavioural science and understanding how to prevent respiratory diseases. @samicarlson.
  • Alyson Wright is a PhD scholar and social epidemiologist at the Australian National University.
  • Samuel McEwen is an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute with interest in disease transmission.

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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
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Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
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