Darla Veitch, a 19-year-old student attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is not the stereotypical college student, gathering in crowds at the beach or in bars.
The farthest she strays from home, she said, is her backyard.
“The last time I went out was probably three months ago, to Home Depot to get some plants to put in our garden,” said Veitch. “Very crazy.”
Images of parties and bars frequently paint a picture of young people who are ignoring social distancing guidelines, like wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. As students have returned to college campuses, cases have risen.
But not all young people are mingling at parties without wearing masks.
Veitch said she is taking online classes because she expected the pandemic would not let up anytime soon.
“It’s been very boring,” said Veitch. “I spend a lot of time...well…all my time indoors with my family. Occasionally my boyfriend visits me.”
He sits two meters away with a mask, and has precautionary testing. He results have been negative.
“For nine months, I haven’t been able to hug my boyfriend or my friends or go on campus. And I know I’m taking this extremely seriously. I definitely think with the climate of politics and what’s going on in our country, I feel very useless because I can’t go out and do something about the events I’m seeing because I don’t want to put other people’s lives at risk,” she added.
Being cautious on campus
Coleman McJessy, a junior at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, says that he and most young people around him are social distancing, not partying, and always wear masks.
“Masks have become a way of life. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen someone have to get reprimanded by a professor or by campus security for not wearing a mask,” the 20-year-old said.
McJessy lives in a dorm with roommates and gets tested twice a week. The university offers the testing for free. Anyone on campus for any reason is required to participate.
People are also required to wear face coverings outdoors and indoors in shared, but not private, spaces.
While McJessy says he and his friends stay on campus mostly, they take extra precautions off campus and are more strategic when making plans.
“If I go to Target to get food, I make a list, go in, and go out. You don’t really do anything just because it’s a spur of the moment thing because you want to make a plan to do the activity whether it’s going off campus or on campus,” McJessy said.
“And [you ask], ‘How safe is it going to be? What’s the chance of getting the virus?’ I think those are questions that are in the back of everybody’s mind,” he added.
Theo Carter, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, also tries to stay indoors as much as possible despite living alone in a dorm on campus.
“I spend a lot of time in my dorm,” Carter said. “I typically go out once a week to get groceries...I probably stay indoors around 80% of the time.”
Frustration with peers
Young people following pandemic regulations express frustration at peers who do not.
“It’s very frustrating and very hard. Because I also want to be going out and partying, but feel a responsibility to not do that so that I don’t endanger myself and others,” Carter said.
“Everything on the news is telling you to stay inside, but you go around and see everyone else ignoring mandates and they’re not social distancing,” Carter said.
Like many adults, some students on campus are not wearing masks and social distancing, he said.
“They’ll wear them under their chin or just hold them. Just walking around campus, they don’t really wear them at all,” Carter said.
As of October 13, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte had 287 confirmed positive cases, 243 among students. There were 17 on-campus active cases.
“Of course, it’s hard to be young now and you want to party and hang out with friends, but they are also educated enough to follow the guidelines of this pandemic,” said Veitch, who said she’s unfollowed some friends on social media after seeing them ignore social distancing.
College administration plays a big role, said McJessy.
Trinity has done “a really good job of creating rules that can be followed and that aren’t unreasonable, such as a testing protocol so that we know when somebody is sick and how to adjust our schedules for that. And a strict no-tolerance policy,” he said.
“My campus is almost entirely a residential campus, so it’s very easy, if there is loud music and lights blasting from a dorm, for campus security to knock on their door and see what’s going on,” he added.
‘We’re not fully to blame’
Veitch said she understands why people are pointing fingers but that young people shouldn’t be fully to blame.
“While we’re pointing the finger at young people, we have adults going to indoor rallies and super spreader events that have now resulted in the White House being completely covered with this horrible virus. It’s a little hypocritical,” Veitch said.
On September 26, President Donald Trump hosted more than 200 people in the White House Rose Garden to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Images of the event showed most attendees did not wear a face mask. After the event, more than two dozen people were reported to have contracted the coronavirus, including the president, first lady Melania Trump and several aides.
President Trump received treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is now back on the campaign trail. His doctor says the president tested negative “on consecutive days.”
Veitch said she bears a responsibility to others.
“I have elderly friends and adult friends who are 50-plus years old that I can’t imagine if something happened to them because of my negligence,” she said.
“I think it’s extremely important for young people to set the standard for behavior, especially because we are the future for this country and this planet. I definitely think we should take more responsibility,” she said.
“I think there is a lot of cynicism about college kids and I don’t think that’s necessarily granted by the numbers, at least by my personal experience here. I do wish that there would be a more complete understanding of college students,” McJessy added.