Caution: Risky behavior ahead

Several years ago, I attended a local youth conference, the purpose of which was to help high school students make good choices and avoid “destructive decisions.”

A variety of presentations demonstrated numerous situations in which choices made today could have positive consequences or negative impacts on the students’ lives.

One presentation of special interest opened with what was perceived to be a romantically involved teen couple standing alone on the stage. They began the skit talking about taking their relationship to the next level — after all they really loved and trusted each other so maybe it was okay now.

And then the girl asked her boyfriend if he had ever been with anyone before. He replied that he really didn’t get around and it had only happened once, with Ann.

Enter Ann.

From backstage, “Ann” came forward to stand behind the boy. The girlfriend said she, too, had been careful and had a very brief relationship with Chad.

Enter Chad, who came forward to stand behind the girl. So the couple figured that wasn’t so bad as they had each had only one other partner.

Until Ann came forward and said she had been with Jim before she had been with the featured boyfriend. Then Jim came up next to Ann to confess he had been with Karen before he had been with her. And when Karen came forward, she mentioned that prior to Jim she had been with Steve, who had previously been with Amy who had been with Mike who had been with Stacy and Kim…

A similar scenario played behind the girlfriend’s involvement with Chad, whose previous relationship had been with Tina who had been with Rob who had been with Julie … and then some!

By the time the skit concluded, the original couple’s decision involved more than a dozen people.

The point made was that the potential for life-altering health concerns doesn’t stop with the person you are with. In reality, the couple had the potential to be seriously affected by preexisting relationships and contacts well beyond their own.

So what does this have to do with COVID?

The health concerns the skit demonstrated initially had no symptoms, the infected individuals most likely were misinformed and didn’t think it would happen to them.

Sound familiar?

Like the scenario I described, the spread of the COVID virus reaches its tendrils well beyond that one best friend or relative you truly want to believe is safe and ties that person to any contacts they may knowingly or unknowingly had made.

So you are essentially spending time with the layers of contacts that can be generated through one individual just going about their day.

Another comparison to the skit is the point made that none of the individuals even mentioned being concerned about any type of health risk. When we are caught up living in the moment, not being able to see the whole picture, perhaps not thinking of or knowing potential consequences, things happen.

Such is the case with COVID spread when the need to see that friend or relative overrides the need to be safe.

In line with health risk, the conditions to which the skit alluded initially showed no symptoms and therefore could be believed to be low risk or irrelevant to that age group, allowing systemic spread.

Such is the mindset that caused an estimated 70 percent of people with COVID in 2020 to be infected by adults ages 20 to 49, the super spreaders.

Why this age group and how does it happen?

One year ago, when COVID made itself known, emphasis was on those people who were older, had pre-existing conditions, or both.

It was thought the lower age group was not at high risk, but this group has since been identified as key in spreading the virus. Not only do they not show symptoms but they often tend to practice risky behaviors — large gatherings, no social distancing and limited mask wearing, especially at such events.

Consider the media coverage of the holiday, seasonal and now Spring Break activities exposing sometimes massive numbers partying with total disregard to COVID safety.

Perhaps you remember hearing about the wedding in Maine last summer attended by 55 guests who were maskless and gathered indoors with no social distancing. This became a super spreader event as symptomless guests returned to their homes, many out of state, and eventually resulted in seven deaths and hundreds of COVID infections well beyond the wedding’s location.

And so we must be vigilant when we ache to be around friends and family outside our bubble, for although we are in the moment in thinking those loved ones are safe, we do not know the trail of their contacts that may have unknowingly, and without symptoms, infected the ones we hold dear.

And, like the young people depicted in the skit, understand that there exists the mindset that people of a certain age may think themselves invincible, that any concept of risk may be lost in the moment, that it won’t affect them, and if it does, they will recover quickly.

Understand, too, that this mindset can infect you. As a character in an Anne Perry novel said, “You cannot expect people to take into account that which they do not want to know.”

Some good news, though. The CDC has adjusted its guidelines so that people who have been vaccinated and are at least two weeks past their final shot can be unmasked with others who are similarly vaccinated, or with people who are at low risk.

Visiting with a friend or perhaps a couple is acceptable. A larger gathering is not.

Chris Smith of Muncy, a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years, is a member of Let’s end COVID!, a group of concerned people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID 19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.


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