To reduce these rates and support young people to play their part in stemming community transmission, we need to understand their experiences during the pandemic.
Less severe, but more prevalent
There’s limited evidence on the physical effects of the disease in young people. But epidemiological data suggests it’s less severe in young adults (opens in a new window)than older adults, and recovery among people in their 20s (opens in a new window)and 30s is usually rapid and complete.
The virus may be present for several days before there are any symptoms, and many young people will have few or no symptoms at all (opens in a new window).
Of course, there are exceptions. Some young people, particularly those who have underlying health conditions or who smoke, may experience severe illness, with potentially long-term effects on their health.
Even young people with mild cases may have prolonged symptoms (opens in a new window)that prevent their return to work and normal activities.
At the same time, everyday activities common to young people — such as working in casualised (opens in a new window)and frontline jobs, or visiting multiple venues on a night out — may mean an infected person without symptoms inadvertently transmits the virus across different networks.
Recent public health messaging targeting young people (opens in a new window)portrays them as naïve or lax. But if we’re going to advise and support them effectively, we need a greater appreciation of the indirect effects COVID-19 has on young people — and how they’re responding.
The indirect effects
COVID-19 has radically affected young adults’ work, study, social lives and caring responsibilities.
Importantly, the various restrictions have exacerbated the social and economic inequalities many young people experience.
Among those aged 15-24, 30% were unemployed or underemployed already before COVID-19.
The most disadvantaged are likely to be worst affected (opens in a new window), including those young people who already experience barriers to accessing social, psychological and health services.
How are young people responding?
In the community, young people have reported they’re aware of (opens in a new window)and are trying to adhere to (opens in a new window)public health directives to avoid catching or spreading the virus.
Their top concern has been the health and welfare of their family and friends, followed by the pandemic’s effects on their study and immediate and long-term employment. Young people are also reporting declines in their mental health, especially feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Young Australians from multicultural backgrounds (opens in a new window)have raised concerns about unequal access to technology as universities, health services and many workplaces shift to remote and online modes. They also worry about the effect of COVID-19 on their education, increases in domestic violence and discrimination (opens in a new window).