Partying during a pandemic: a sign of hope or an emblem of privilege?

It’s been over 240 days since Governor Brian Kemp declared COVID-19 an “unprecedented public health emergency” in March. There’s been around 10.4 million total cases in the US and 241,000+ deaths. 

There’s no denying that this will be one of the most defining moments for Gen Z, who other generations have repeatedly criticized as unexposed to the hardship of the real world. Our résumé of disaster experience has grown exponentially: we’ve not only felt the effects of the pandemic but also of a recession that comes second only to the Great Depression. We all know someone who has lost a job, gotten COVID-19, or lost a life during the dumpster fire that is 2020. But yet, life goes on for Gen Z. Everyday we still wake up for school, still join in on the latest TikTok craze, still find remnants of life pre-pandemic. 

In some ways, the sense of normalcy adults have imposed on us has worked, almost too well. We forget that this sense of normalcy is an act; the world we live in has not caught up to the lives we lead. The greatest manifestation of this thus far was partying on the weekend of Halloween. Thousands of teenagers across Atlanta donned their costumes and attended parties. A small number donned masks, and an even smaller number went to gatherings of 10 people or less. If I look on my Instagram feed, this Halloween does not look much different from other Halloweens. Pictures of maskless girls in matching costumes litter my instagram page. On Snapchat, videos of parties flood people’s stories. All the while, I have to wonder who will catch the virus, who will spread it, and who will walk away unscathed.

The number of active cases is growing and seems as if it will continue to grow. Affected individuals can be contagious for two days before showing COVID-19 symptoms, not to mention many infected young people who are asymptomatic or display minimal symptoms. Considering how many teenagers were out and about maskless in mass gatherings, it’s no wonder we’re looking at a boom in cases. 

Maybe it feels like Westminster kids won’t make a huge difference, thanks to the idea that “if people are partying I might as well party too.” It probably won’t make a huge difference in the Westminster community anyway, where 63 percent of the students are white and economically stable: two parents with reliable salaries, two-car garages, houses big enough to keep you quarantined from other family members, and great health care coverage (or relative to other Americans, but that’s a whole other issue). For many students, if they get sick, one of their parents can take time off work and their high-risk grandparents live somewhere separately. If they do go to the hospital, all expenses will be paid.

Imagine how many private school students across the metro Atlanta area thought that it wouldn’t make a difference whether or not they went and partied. This number adds up quickly and has adverse effects on not only the individual themselves but those around them. The bubble of privilege that surrounds us does not insulate us from the pandemic. The pandemic and recession have adverse effects on even the most privileged. Imagine how one student’s irresponsible choice will affect those who cannot afford a hospital stay, who do not receive the same treatment from healthcare professionals, and those who are at elevated risks of severe COVID-19 complications.

COVID-19 and the recession disproportionately affect people of color, women, and lower income families. In a Commonwealth Fund survey, more than half of Latinx and nearly half of Black respondents reported experiencing an economic challenge during this time, compared to 21 percent of white respondents. Latinx people, black people, low income people, and women were most at risk of developing symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. American minorities experience a very different healthcare system than many of their white counterparts: they die prematurely, experience worse care, and are more likely to develop more illnesses. They get the short end of an already broken healthcare system where millions of Americans can’t afford treatment or have outstanding medical bills. Even if you personally do not fit into any of these categories, you likely have a close friend, a family member, a neighbor across the street, or just a friendly and familiar face who checks one of these boxes. The consequences of COVID-19 extend way beyond just us as individuals.

In some way, I understand why so many people went out to party. They went out for a glimpse of life pre-COVID-19, a couple of hours without the suffocating pandemic and disheartening statistics on their minds, having a taste of fun to appease the gloom of the upcoming months. I mean, America has always tried to keep morale up in a crisis. During World War II, magazines, diaries, and photos describe planting victory gardens, singing songs for our soldiers, and coming up with ration cookbooks. After the 9/11 attacks, we came together to mourn as a nation and promised one another we would do everything in our power to prevent a repeat occurrence. My cousin said she’d never seen more American flags hanging in front of houses then she did after 9/11. 

A pandemic is not planned warfare that conscripts people to fight in far away places and never return home. However, instead of Americans uniting to prevent the spread, we stand more divided than ever. Videos of anti-maskers melting down and berating employees who enforce the store’s mandatory mask policies keep going viral, and there is a new one almost every week. I have even seen videos of people purposely coughing on someone for telling them they should be wearing a mask. In October, only 56 percent of Amercians said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine according to a CNN poll. Half of the country blames the other half for prolonging the pandemic. Even on an individual level, we see that our sense of responsibility and consideration for others well-being and the well-being of our country has plummeted. There should be no “us versus them” though; it should be “us versus the virus.” 

We’ve been duped into believing we’re invincible with modern medicine and youthful bodies, so we go out to face the threat head on. Bait the virus to come and get us during parties, eating at restaurants, “conveniently forgetting” our masks. But we are not invincible — I don’t know why we think we are either when we have evidence that this virus is not afraid to fight back. Maybe it’s the developing amygdala responsible for risk taking and understanding long term risk, maybe it’s teen spirit. Whatever the reason, it’s irresponsible to ignore the consequences of ignoring the pandemic. We must hope for the future and act in the present.

Junior Sofi Hromis is a Writing Fellow and an Evolutions staff member.