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Editorial: Partying youth raise risks for all

The current nationwide surge in delta variant infections has been described invariably as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In particular, it seems to be becoming the pandemic of the unvaccinated youth, who are getting sick with COVID-19 with alarming, increasing frequency.

Older teens and young adults also are turning up in large gatherings in out-of-the-way beaches, in order to avoid citation for violating the statewide limits on group sizes: 10 indoors, 25 outdoors. Various such events have been brought to the attention of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Most concerning, about 300 people showed up late Saturday afternoon on the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline beaches for a party that, they hoped, would bring relief from such regulations. Unfortunately, it also had the mark of a “super-spreader” event that can only increase the shocking toll of COVID-19 cases, resultant hospitalizations and, tragically, deaths.

DLNR correctly moved quickly to break up the party. But while that delivered a needed show of enforcement resolve, only four citations were issued for unpermitted generators and sound equipment. Citations, and fines, must target participants in prohibited gatherings as well, if there’s to be hope of tamping down the spike in community cases.

The somewhat muted messaging was amplified, fortunately, by the University of Hawaii-Manoa leadership. Many of those in attendance were UH students drawn there by social media.

The gathering was “completely unacceptable and deeply disappointing,” said UH-Manoa Provost Michael Bruno in an emailed message sent Monday to the campus community. Although, as Bruno noted, nearly 90% of students are fully vaccinated, acting responsibly requires more. Simply taking the shots does not make anyone bulletproof.

At the outset of this seemingly interminable health crisis, young people could be forgiven for feeling less than threatened by COVID-19. The initial takeaway was that those in the 65-plus age range were most at risk of contracting the disease and suffering its worst effects.

It’s certainly one reason why fully one-third of Hawaii residents ages 18-29 declined the vaccine: They believed they didn’t need it.

They are wrong. The delta variant of the virus has changed calculations.

Since early July, the numbers of those in the 18-44 age range increased twelvefold, according to state health data that also showed the 18-and-under group comprising 21% of the total cases.

Only a small minority of those hospitalized are minors, fortunately. However, not enough is known about the long-term effects of even a mild case. And not everyone who recovers at home has an easy go of it.

In Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, writer Sophie Cocke recounted the experience of 29-year-old Doorae Shin, who was unvaccinated and caught COVID-19. She said she wasn’t hospitalized, but developed hives, a 102-degree fever and severe aches, felt tired and nauseous, and lost her senses of taste and smell. Shin said she regrets initially refusing vaccination.

Acknowledging a heightened risk to one’s own health is one thing, but even more crucially, the decision to take risks is not a matter simply of individual choice. Those who don’t get vaccinated and then circulate widely and actively in the community are endangering others and helping to perpetuate this virus, which over time may develop even more dangerous strains.

It is admittedly hard for young people, sequestered for so long in virtual home classrooms and with a minimal social life, to postpone a truly carefree lifestyle for a little longer. But to beat back this virus and clear the path back to something more like normal life, that is what it is going to take.

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