A Stay at Home order means just that: Stay home. It doesn’t mean go to parties, hang with friends, or gather in groups. But, evidently, some American teens haven’t gotten the COVID-19 quarantine message yet. So what are the penalties for violating a Stay at Home order — besides harming themselves and thousands of others?
First, Some Facts
Young people are not immune to COVID-19.
For instance, in Kentucky (a state which has strict social distancing guidelines in place), a group of young adults held a “coronavirus party.” In blatant defiance of social distancing, they had a blowout. And paid a price. At least one of the partiers is now infected with COVID-19, which means the spread among them is probably inevitable.
“This is one that makes me mad,” Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said to CNN. “We have to be much better than that.”
Many teens and Gen Z young adults look at older COVID-19 stats and decide they’re in no danger. But that assumption, based on the spread of serious illness in China, has not held up in the US.
“So far the demography definitely seems to be very different in the United States versus in other countries that saw this hit earlier,” US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on NBC’s Today on Monday.
The disease is hitting younger people; according to the CDC’s report from last week, 20% of people hospitalized with the virus are between the ages of 20-44. And in New York State, 53% of cases have been between 18-44.
Don’t be fooled: there’s no invincibility regarding this virus.
Penalties for Violating a Stay at Home Order
Throwing a party might not rank as terrorism, but in this period of viral containment, it’s certainly counted as a misdemeanor.
In San Francisco, the city has imposed citations for citizens not obeying the six-foot social distancing guidelines. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) may cite violators with a misdemeanor and a hefty fine, although Police Chief Bill Scott told SFist violators will only be cited as a “last resort.”
Throughout California, Governor Gavin Newsome was driven to close beaches and parks as a last resort effort to keep the disobedient from congregating unsafely at them. According to ABC30, he also “says the state will be shutting down all state parking lots after videos of groups of people gathered at beaches and parks surfaced over the weekend.”
Internationally, Bloomberg reports, “Italy’s government may impose fines of up to 3,000 euros for violations of a nationwide lockdown as the country struggles to counter Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak.”
The most heinous examples, though, involve anti-social individuals purposefully and maliciously coughing on people or licking products shelved in stores. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said, “Purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19″ could be considered an act of terrorism.”
One 50-year-old man in Freehold, NJ purposely coughed on a woman in a local market. He then laughed and said he was infected. He’s now facing numerous charges, including terroristic threats, and could face up to five years in prison.
Another example of this: a 26-year-old man in Warren County, Missouri, charged with licking Walmart deodorant displays while exclaiming “Who’s afraid of coronavirus?” He’s been charged with making a terrorist threat, which might add up to four years behind bars.
Why Are Kids Doing This?
Current research and understanding of brain development have found that adolescents and people under 25 have still developing frontal cortex functions. The developed adult frontal cortex is responsible for decision making, blunts impulsivity, allows for consideration of consequences and basically creates a responsible adult.
Teens and young adults often lack these abilities in full. The frontal cortex doesn’t get fully up and running until the mid-20s. Yet, endocrine levels are soaring. The result? Younger people are more prone to take risks without understanding the consequences of their actions. Thus: a coronavirus party is born.
Parents and responsible adults should keep this lack of thought in mind. Teens need rules, boundaries, and restrictions at the best of times. During a pandemic, they need to be kept in homes and away from temptations.
In his book Behave: Biology of Humans at Their Best and Worst, neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky describes adolescents as being more likely to do everything from “kill, be killed, leave home forever, invent an art form … transform physics … mug an old lady.”
“In other words,” Sapolsky writes. “It’s the time of life of maximal risk-taking, novelty-seeking, and affiliation with peers. All because of that immature frontal cortex.”