Doctor says young people also victims of negative COVID impact

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Doctor says young people also victims of negative COVID impact

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, October 17, 2020

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WHILE there is growing impatience with the perceived disregard by some young people for the COVID-19 prevention and containment protocols, it has emerged that the youth are also victims of the negative impact of the virus and that their concerns should be brought into focus.

Incidents of social gatherings and risky behaviours involving young people that have come into the public domain have drawn strong criticism and fears that these activities could be putting vulnerable persons and entire communities at risk, but there is another side to the story, says paediatrician and adolscent medicine specialist Dr Abigail Harrison.

She pointed out that young people, too, are struggling with the loneliness and depression that comes with the restrictions of COVID-19, which limits socialisation. “What we are seeing clinically is that a lot of our young people are having a significant mental health impact and we are seeing daily more young people who are unravelling...those who may have had mild anxiety symptoms before have significantly piqued symptoms now, and persons who never had any symptoms before may have depressive sypmtoms and they are not coping with this sense of not knowing what comes next and how to manage that,” she explained.

Dr Harrison said some balance must be found to help youth navigate the stress of the COVID-19 era, which is affecting everyone at all age groups. She pointed out also that many young people are at risk of becoming very ill if they contract COVID-19, due to their health status.

She was speaking on Thursday during the Ministy of Health's weekly 'COVID-Conversations', where policymakers looked at the youth aspect of the COVID-19 response, in a discussion themed, 'COVID-19 and our youth: protectors or super spreaders?'

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in acknowledging that the youth do face their own struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, stressed that the ministry wants them to “become part of this army of the COVID response”.

He said this cohort are critical to fighting the spread of the virus, and that the ministry will be targetting aproximately 700 youth, to promote positive behaviour response among young people, engaging them as agents of change across their communities.

The COVID-19 youth leaders response, which the ministry officially launched yesterday, targets persons aged 14 to 35 years old, to be deployed across communities beginning with youth leaders in organisations such as service clubs. Dr Tufton said Members of Parliament will also be engaged to nominate key youth leaders.

According to a COVID-19 knowledge attitude and practices survey carried out by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica earlier this year, there is some disparity in the perception of risk across genders, health regions, and among age groups. The survery found that those aged 18 to 24 had the lowest perceived risk of contracting COVID-19.

At the same time, numbers from the ministry show that the virus is more active in the younger population, but the death rate is higher in older people, which means older people and the elderly are at particular risk when they interact with younger people who may not be practising the required protocols.

National epidemiologst Dr Karen Webster Kerr said that while the rate of spread of the virus overall is slowing, it is increasing in some parishes, but she said, “there is some hope, there is some slowing”.

In early September, as the country entered the community transmission phase of the pandemic, the health minister advised that it could take up to three months of constant high number of cases, or increasing numbers, before there is a peak and eventual decline in new cases.


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