Sophia Tuinstra

“Why should I even be following social distancing rules? I’m your average teenager with no health problems.

“Why should I care if I get infected with a virus that will likely do no more harm than a common cold? Why are teens even social distancing?”

Remember, social distancing and mask wearing are more about making sure you do not accidentally transmit the virus to somebody around you.

Ever since the first reported outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, many people have been understandably sharing concerns among family and friends. If parents are increasingly worried about how to keep their families safe and healthy, then teenagers are almost certainly thinking the same.

In today’s age of technology, keeping up with what is going on in the world can easily be accomplished with a few clicks on a phone. During this time, teenagers are talking to their friends and searching social media and the internet to gather answers – including potential misinformation.

One reason we are hearing so much about this virus than others is because of how fast it is spreading and its impact locally, nationally and worldwide. Another reason is that we have many more ways of sharing information than we had in the past.

Posts have the ability to “go viral” because of what they say and how they make a reader feel. For me, reading and listening to all of the information and commentary about the coronavirus has become overwhelming and distressing. I recommend limiting how much you read about this or any hot topic on the news and social media. Instead, learn to gather your own information and to be objective.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, coronaviruses are typically transmitted from person to person through the exhalation of respiratory droplets (from the nose and mouth) and close contact. When a person comes into contact with an infected individual who has coughed or sneezed into the air, he or she breathes in these particles – potentially causing the healthy person to contract COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious diseases doctors, said “particles can also land on objects and surfaces, and people can then catch the virus from touching those surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.”

Even when you are not sick, there is always the possibility that your body is harboring germs and viruses. So it is important to always reinforce that it’s not always what you breathe in, but rather what you breathe out. A lot of people will not be infected by this virus, but it is who you come in contact with that matters.

After months of being ordered to stay home, leave school, stay away from other people and only go out when you absolutely have to, most everyone was ready to get out.

For teenagers especially, isolation is difficult to handle. I see more and more people my age walking down the street together – not wearing masks or social distancing.

And it doesn’t just happen on my block, but all over town. All across the nation, people have come up with reasons not to wear masks or social distance such as it being “a violation of freedom” or favoring the emotional side that says “wearing masks is stupid, or not cool.”

There are those across the country who defy social distancing guidance and don´t wear face masks. Everywhere, the effectiveness of masks is being debated, with some claiming masks are not effective and enforceable under law.

This pandemic has greatly affected people’s well-being and upset their daily routines.

People have lost jobs and loved ones, teens have lost their proms and other social events. Many Americans’ stress levels are high.

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, a bioethicist and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that “when anxiety is heightened, we tend to take more rigid stances and lose our flexibility, and, unfortunately, sometimes our ability to see things rationally.” It is considered a social norm in some cultures to wear a face mask regularly. In China, Japan and South Korea, face masks are worn to reduce risks associated with air pollution and illness. However, many people in the western part of the world are not accustomed to wearing face masks in their daily lives, and doing so feels uncomfortable, “culturally strange” and even an inconvenience.

For the past two years, I have been battling cancer.

With my immunity low, it was then that I became educated on the importance of wearing a face mask. It was vital for me to protect myself from germs, viruses, and those who were sick. I wore my mask and washed my hands when people came to visit me, when my doctors frequently treated me, to the store, on a walk – absolutely everywhere.

Now, I am a 16-year-old cancer survivor and I continue to wear one – and make face masks as a project for Girl Scouts for kids and teens at hospitals and for anyone in my community who needs one.

Although wearing my mask could not protect me from everything I contracted, I made it through my treatment with only a few infections.

I know that a lot of people are irritated about wearing face masks, whether that be because they are hot, annoying or ugly.

I get it. I don’t like wearing masks either. Who would?

There is a lot of anger, confusion, and misunderstanding not only around the country, but in our community about this virus, wearing masks and staying away from one another, but neither the government or doctors are trying to restrict your freedom. They’re doing it to protect themselves and everyone else. So when you see people wearing masks, respect and understand that decision to protect you and themselves.

During this pandemic, it is extremely important to show teens that it is still possible to continue doing what they value most, while practicing healthy behavior and social distancing. This includes Facetime, sitting outside at friend’s backyard table, 6 feet apart, playing games, doing crafts, or meeting out in public wearing masks and distancing yourselves. Some teens have even come up with creative ways to keep in touch with friends by sending hand-written letters and organizing car parades to celebrate birthdays and graduations.

The health of our fellow citizens is most important. By wearing a mask you can protect the people around you – family, friends and the general public. Not everyone is healthy and many people have medical conditions and impaired immune systems. If we all want to get back to “normal,” then wearing a mask is the way to do it and it shows consideration for our communities.

Sophia Tuinstra is a senior-to-be at Westmont Hilltop High School and a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Reader Advisory Committee.

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