As Spring Breakers Break COVID-19 Precautions, I Found Inspiration in One Steadfast Young Man

Many young adults seem to be throwing caution to the wind with COVID-19 precautions, but a neighbor of mine gave me hope for the younger generations since he was steadfast in protecting vulnerable people like me.

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 coincided with spring breakers headed to Florida, and the contrast could not have been more stunning: Vulnerable elders dying in nursing homes and young people partying on the beach. This split-screen scenario played out nightly on national news and I felt dismay and disgust toward the younger generation. I thought that they were so self-centered, becoming super-spreaders of the very deadly COVID-19.

“How could these twenty-somethings turn a blind eye toward the suffering and death of their great aunts and uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers?” I thought.

I sought, in vain, to find a reason to believe in the younger generation, until a cool, sunny day in mid-March of this year. I and my college-age neighbor – I’ll dub him “Greg” – were taking the trash out at the same time and started chatting. I had often seen Greg at a store where he worked, and he seemed outgoing and friendly. He was always duly masked and kept a good physical distance from me when I shopped.

This day, Greg had great news: He had been transferred to another store where he was promoted to manager. His happy announcement came at the same time his company gave employees the option whether to wear a mask at work. To my pleasant surprise, he shared that he and his entire team had decided to keep masking up, not only for themselves but for any vulnerable customer they might be waiting on.

“You never know if the person you’re waiting on might have a health condition and needs to be protected,” Greg said. “We’re definitely still in this pandemic.”

Most Are Unmasked

In most stores that I frequent, I witness just the opposite. Managers and employees alike are barefaced. Worse still, they violate the cardinal rule of this pandemic: stay 6 feet away during conversations indoors to avoid transmitting the coronavirus.

Going shopping is a risky proposition for people like me, who not only live with cancer but are also over the age of 65. No one asked us if it was a good idea to lift indoor mask mandates.

Even with omicron transmissions at historic low levels, I’m still wary about mingling with the unmasked indoors. Many people are still dying every day in U.S. and, until recently, my state had one of the highest hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in the nation.

I’ve wondered if the vaccine will protect me enough and how long will we need to be apart from family and friends, especially since my cancer may make me more vulnerable.

Caution is my motto, and I am never without my mask, even walking alone in my neighborhood. As a bonus, it helps to fight allergies!

A Great Role Model

I took heart in Greg’s attitude and action about taking such good care of himself, his employees and customers. Here was a young man mature and sensitive, leading me to ask: Maybe, just maybe, could there be more Gregs out there among the younger set?

I hope and pray that that is the case, but one thing is very certain. Greg has restored my faith in the younger generation. I truly want to believe that many young people like himself are doing the right thing to protect older Americans and immunocompromised patients and others at risk for “breakthrough infections” from the omicron variant, especially important as an omicron sub-variant looms on our horizon.

Spring break is once again upon us, and hordes of young, unmasked kids will be congregating at the southern beaches. But not everyone is throwing caution to the wind.

I have learned not to stereotype an entire generation, based on what I see on the nightly news.

And I look forward to meeting more people like Greg. You can bet that I will be patronizing his store. He has earned my business and my deepest respect.

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