March 22, 2020 / 10:56 AM / 11 days ago

U.S. millennials, stuck at home, adjust to coronavirus isolation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A young chef is honing his online chess game. A copywriter is meditating to battle isolation anxiety. And many are spending even more time on social media to stay connected.

FILE PHOTO: A message is seen on an electronic display inside a mostly empty 42nd Street subway station during the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, New York, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Millennials, young adults in their 20s and 30s, who are under “shelter-at-home” orders in major cities from New York to California are facing the prospect of being physically detached, but this generation is the one most prepared for the long lonely slog, experts said.

“They are the core group that will stop this virus. They’re the group that communicates successfully, independent of picking up a phone,” Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said this week.

California areas under a shelter-in-place order all have the same rule: Vulnerable populations must stay home and anyone else can only leave to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care or work an “essential” job.

Taking a walk or bike ride outside is OK as long as people are not in groups and stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from one another.

SEEKING SOLIDARITY

“I’ve been communicating with friends and family a lot more than I ever did in the past,” said Chef Kyle McBride, 32, in San Francisco. “It’s been a moment for sharing a lot and reaching out to people.”

McBride and 15 other friends refashioned a WhatsApp messaging group created to plan a Costa Rica vacation into a forum for sharing news and commiserating about the pandemic.

“A lot of people are really tuned into social media and news right now just because of sheer boredom and wanting to stay connected to the latest,” he said.

Increased online connections will be critical for millions of Americans as they retreat into their homes for an indefinite period.

“A focus can be the potentially good feeling of solidarity, that we’re looking our for each other in this pandemic,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Brigham Young University and a top scholar on loneliness in the United States.

“Look at the Italians out singing on balconies and communicating across distances. That is communicating to others that ‘we’re in this together’ despite the distance.”

Holt-Lunstad said most people in a shelter-at-place situation need to focus on increasing contact with the outside world to stay mentally healthy.

“Some research also suggests that engaging in creative arts would be helpful, so this is potentially a time when people could try that,” she said. “It could be anything - from poetry to cooking to any number of ways to creatively express yourself.”

‘ON THE BRINK’

World events for the last two decades have prepared young adults for crisis.

“Being a millennial, we’ve seen a lot of scary things. I grew up in New York during 9/11,” said Miles Gamble, 32, a New York City employee who works on federal compliance. “I grew up in New York during swine flu, during West Nile virus, during the second and third Ebola outbreaks.”

Gamble celebrated his birthday this week in his studio apartment.

“Our generation particularly are not worried enough,” he said. “We have been a generation that has literally been on the brink of the end of the world for like now, arguably 20 years.”

Public health officials have been urging young adults to take the disease seriously. Americans aged 20-44 represented one in five of the cases hospitalized with the disease from Feb. 12-March 16, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Timothy J. Seppala, a 35-year-old copywriter in the Detroit area, his first week working at home made it hard to exercise, but he was meditating to keep anxiety at bay.

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He echoed others about going online to stay in touch and keep spirits up, but that can only go so far.

Seppala, who is single, could not meet up with a potential date he was set up with.

“I don’t know if anyone is feeling ready to go out,” he said. “Right now the vibe is just we all stay home.”

Reporting by Makini Brice and Jan Wolfe in Washington, additional reporting and writing by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Scott Malone and Richard Chang

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