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Background

Early in 2020, the first wave of the COVID-19 virus spread worldwide, and resulted in shutdowns and quarantines on a global scale as nations and communities made efforts to flatten the curve. In the United States, as of early June, most states have begun loosening restrictions and heading towards a state of “normalcy”. At the same, time, the virus remains a powerful threat, having already claimed the lives of over 100,000 Americans. The younger population, in particular, may be emboldened to forgo precautions and ignore the threat that the virus poses, due to lower rates of serious illness in this demographic.

The Issue

The younger demographic is statistically at a lower risk of serious illness and death due to COVID-19 (in the United States, out of 10 deaths due to the virus in have been in adults aged 60 or older) [1]. However, the danger lies not in symptoms but in the lack of symptoms. Several studies have shown that COVID-19 can be transmitted asymptomatically, and that as many as 50% of individuals carrying the virus may be doing so while unaware of their infected state [2]. The issue is that youth, who are less likely to exhibit symptoms, are very capable of asymptomatically spreading the virus to their peers, families, and communities — members of which may be at increased risk of death due to age or pre-existing conditions. While youth may not be risk-averse because they believe they are not personally at risk, their actions potentially risk the lives of countless others, by contributing to the spread of the virus.

Asymptomatic spreading and a potential reopening of the island now and in July could have devastating effects by increasing the speed and spread of the virus. We’ve seen that in Japan, several clusters of cases were linked to young, asymptomatic spreaders of the virus. Similarly, the number of new cases in Florida has skyrocketed recently as the state has reopened, and this is driven primarily by the state’s youth (in fact, young Floridians have the virus at nearly twice the rate of Floridians overall) [6].

The Urgency of the Situation

As of June 16, 2020, all 50 U.S. states have begun to reopen in some capacity. We define a state as “reopening” if its stay-at-home order has been lifted, once at least one major sector of its economy has reopened for business, or once multiple smaller sectors of its economy have resumed business activities.

On a nation-wide scale, businesses are reopening, albeit with restrictions (such as mask requirements and social distancing enforcement). Outside the realm of business, however, people are interacting with each other at a larger scale, particularly in social and recreational contexts.

After Arizona lifted its stay-at-home order on May 15, groups flocked to bar districts in Phoenix for Memorial Day festivities. As of June 12, 2020, Arizona reported a 198% increase in cases over the prior two weeks [4].

As of June 14, 2020, New York State had received over 25,000 complaints about violations among business reopening procedures. In response to videos of crowds of New Yorkers engaging in social activities without effective social distancing, Governor Andrew Cuomo emphasized the necessity of properly following procedures such as mask-wearing and maintaining adequate distance from others [5].

It is evident that people are itching to resume normal activities — understandably, after so many months of relative isolation and social distancing. However, the increase in openings makes the necessity for curbing the spread of the virus and educating the public (and, in particular, the youth) ever more pressing and urgent.

The Unknowns

When considering the impacts of COVID-19, it is important to not only consider the immediate and present effects of the virus, but also the potential for long-term consequences.  

There are several viruses which remain in the body indefinitely, even after treatment and seeming recovery. The varicella (chickenpox) virus, for example, remains in the body even after recovery. Later in life, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles [8]. The herpes simplex virus causes herpes, which is a lifelong infection and can recur periodically in an infected individual [7].

Similarly concerning is the set of viruses which are linked with cancer in humans. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) increases the risk of lymphoma, some types of Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and stomach cancer. The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a leading cause of liver cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has several strains which cause various forms of cancer. Certain HPV strains, for example, are the main causes of cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer among women worldwide [9]. 

While it is important to prevent fear-mongering, it is also of great importance that we spread those facts which are known, and understand which aspects of COVID-19 are not known. It is of great necessity that people remain aware that much is still unknown about the current pandemic and the virus causing it. Armed with knowledge, individuals will better be able to exercise the appropriate caution to protect our selves, communities, and loved ones.

Youth COVID-19 Awareness

A major contributor to this issue is a lack of awareness. Many do not follow statistics about the virus, such as the growth in case numbers and death tolls, and, as a result, don’t fully comprehend the consequences it can have on communities unless they experience it firsthand. The main goal of the Youth COVID-19 Awareness app (YCA) is to help individuals and communities, and particularly youth worldwide, understand the severity of the virus in the most intuitive and easily-comprehensible form of media presentation for them: a mobile application.

YCA raises awareness on COVID-19 by sharing virus statistics at the click of a button, instantly providing COVID-19 data for nearly every country on the planet. The app goes beyond numbers by presenting data on a country-by-country basis in the form of a dynamic and interactive graph, to help users visualize the statistics in a more tangible manner.

Most importantly, YCA notifies users of updated COVID-19 guidelines and precautions specifically curated by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to provide users with the most current and crucial information necessary to stay safe.

YCA Education Ambassador Program

While concurrently working on improving and growing the YCA’s native app capabilities, our current initiative is to expand our YCA Education Ambassador Program. Through YCA’s Education Ambassador program, school and school districts will increase awareness of COVID-19 and its known facets, and encourage positive youth behavior through the classroom. If you would like to be a YCA Ambassador for the incoming 2020-21 school year, or if represent a school/school district, please reach out to ProjectYCA@outlook.com.

Partnerships

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The YCA is currently partnered with the Harvard Coronavirus Visualization Team: ClinicianWiki and Youth Coronavirus Media Coalition

 

About Arjun

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Aloha and hello! My name is Arjun Sharma, and I am a senior in high school. Last year, I created CleanMyBeach — an application that streamlines the process of organizing and finding beach cleanups. The app won first place in the Congressional App Challenge 2019.

Since then, I’ve continued to grow and improve CleanMyBeach while simultaneously working on my academics. Now that my junior year is over, I’ve added a new project to my plate: I’ve been developing an app regarding the virus called Youth Covid-19 Awareness (YCA).

I was especially prompted to build YCA due to Covid-19’s potential effects on a specific group of people I hold dear to my heart: the ocean-loving community. There has been speculation of the virus’s spread through ocean spray and bodies of water [3]. While there is no conclusive evidence confirming this yet, exercising caution is imperative to the safety of our ocean-side communities. Now, as beaches in Oahu (and nationwide) re-open, I seek to further investigate the connection between COVID-19 and salt-water spread, and to raise awareness to protect my fellow ocean-lovers, bodyboarders, beachgoers, and surfers.

 

Join the YCA Team

YCA is looking for driven individuals who are passionate about educating and informing their peers on the dangers of the Covid-19 virus, and who are interested in joining a program that seeks to raise awareness and change youth behavior. Specifically, we are looking for those interested in:

  • Research
  • Outreach/Promotion
  • Technical Development

If you are interested in the above areas, please fill out the YCA Team Application Form linked here.

 

YCA Media Recognition

7/7/2020 – Medium – “Spread sense not the virus” Meet a young prodigy using a mobile app to change youths behavior and tackle misinformation on COVID-19.

7/5/2020 – Conscious Maui – Youth Covid-19 Awareness

6/29/2020 – Honolulu Civil Beat – Is The Pandemic Creating More Litter?

References

1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html
2. https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/05/12/gigi-gronvall-asymptomatic-spread-covid-19-immunity-passports/
3. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/science/story/2020-03-31/uc-san-diego-atmospheric-chemist-pleads-with-surfers-and-beach-walkers-to-stay-home
4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-surges-of-the-coronavirus-across-the-nation-could-force-more-shutdowns/2020/06/12/e6985b94-acd9-11ea-a9d9-a81c1a491c52_story.html
5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/06/14/cuomo-warns-of-consequences-after-videos-emerge-of-maskless-new-yorkers-drinking-in-the-streets/
6. https://www.wfla.com/community/health/coronavirus/younger-populations-driving-second-wave-of-coronavirus-in-florida-officials-say/
7. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/herpes-simplex-virus
8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11036-shingles
9. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/infections-that-can-lead-to-cancer/viruses.html