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Despite What We Hear, Not All “Virus Rebels” Are Gen Zers Partying at the Beach

Corey Seemiller
Mar 24 · 4 min read

Whether they are referred to as “covidiots” or “virus rebels”, people are ignoring shelter-in-place orders, requests to stay home, social distancing norms, and thus proceeding with their lives as they normally would. In particular, there has been a great deal of attention focused on the irresponsibility of young people who are dismissing concerns that even if asymptomatic, they could spread the virus to others. In some sense, this is spot on. There are many young people, specifically Gen Z teens and young adults, hitting the beaches for spring break, partying, and even coughing on produce at the grocery store as part of a social media challenge.

But virus rebels are not just Gen Zers.

They are also older folks who feel they have spent their lives earning the travel and social opportunities afforded to them in their golden years. Seventy year-old Sal Gentile noted in response to an inquiry made by the Washington Post, “We’re bolder, not older. Time to be mindful. Take a deep breath and enjoy life. We worked many decades to now have the privilege of being older. … Yep, I have a pacemaker and recent fusion; however my love for quality of life is more important to me than being rattled by a TV station.”

They are also Baby Boomers who are consuming misinformation, not identifying as “old” and at-risk, and simply being stubborn. And, some may see themselves as heroes who will sacrifice for younger generations. For example, Texas Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, asserted that as a soon-to-be 70 year-old, he would be willing to risk his health and take a chance on his own survival if it meant getting the economy back up and running again. He calls to question whether other senior citizens might also sacrifice for the future economic well being of their grandchildren.

They are also wealthy adults who can travel to second residences, despite pleas to stay home and not potentially overwhelm small communities with limited healthcare resources.

They are also people who think they will likely get coronavirus anyway. Waiting in line to enter a Boston bar, Raphew Fahm, a pharmacist, told reporters at the Boston Globe, “In my occupation, I’m probably going to be exposed [more] than the average person, I’m taking precautions, but there’s only so much I can do if I have to go to work, right?”

They are also people who believe the whole situation is overblown. For example, 68 year-old Patricia Bell says in an NPR poll, “Obviously there’s a concern for the elderly, but do I agree with the reaction? I think it’s a serious issue, but I think to some extent, we’ve overhyped it.” With this mindset, it’s not surprising that some people aren’t taking social distancing seriously as they don’t think the threat is real or that they will actually get sick.

They are also people who believe that personal freedom trumps all else. For example, Evangeline Lilly, responding to a post on Instagram describing her activities as #businessasusual, said, “Some people value their lives over freedom, some people value freedom over their lives. We all make our choices.”

They are also people simply not getting correct information or a barrage of conflicting information about what to do. This includes seeing actions of politicians, like the Governor of Oklahoma, who posted a tweet about taking his family out to eat at a “packed” restaurant despite recommendations for social distancing. Or Senator Rand Paul not quarantining after his COVID-19 test because he was asymptomatic, despite finding out later he tested positive.

They are also everyday people who may be following public health practices but not using common sense. For example, getting outdoors is recommended during social distancing and even shelter-in-place, but hoards of newly-minted outdoor enthusiasts are inundating parks and trails, causing crowded areas.

They are also even people who believe this whole thing is a hoax.

According to an analysis of a variety of polls on Five-Thirty-Eight, overall, there does not appear to be “one generation” of virus rebels. A Morning Consult Poll conducted between March 17th and 20th found that 5% of 18–29 year-olds are continuing to socialize in public places. This is lower than the 7% of those 30–44, and the same rate as those 45–54.

On a positive note, a vast number of Americans of all ages, including young people, are practicing social distancing. Those in Generation Z, in particular, are even using their standby social media app, TikTok, to share and get information about the crisis. And, these young people are stepping up to contribute as well. Fourteen year-old Dylan Capshaw of Arizona is using his 3D printer to make reusable masks for healthcare professionals. In an interview with Channel 12 news, Capshaw said, “They’re cheap, easy to make and affordable, so if people can just make them and donate them, it could really help slow the spread.”

So, whatever age you are…follow public health practices, buy what you need but not more, and know that everything is not about you. Students are missing graduations, employees are getting laid off, people are losing their retirement funds, individuals are scared, and many people are sick and dying. It’s going to take all of us — all generations — to address this crisis. Let’s all do our part to help save lives and move forward as we are definitely stronger when we come together.

*This article was written and edited in collaboration with Meghan Grace. To find out more about our Generation Z work, please visit thegenzhub.com.

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Stay up to date on the latest on Generation Z and politics, the economy, jobs, education, technology, health, and relationships.

Corey Seemiller

Written by

Dr. Corey Seemiller is an award-winning professor and author of four books on Generation Z, including Generation Z: A Century in the Making.

The Gen Z Hub

Stay up to date on the latest on Generation Z and politics, the economy, jobs, education, technology, health, and relationships.

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