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These Kansas City 20-somethings are not waiting out another round of COVID

A man with dark, wavy hears and wearing a light gray jacket leans forward while riding a skateboard down an alley. His friend in dark clothes stands behind, smiling and watching the him roll away.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Issac Samayee (front) and Thomas Moore were celebrating the end of the work week on a recent Friday night in Westport. They said they've already lost critical years of their lives so they're willing to risk going out to bars and restaurants.

They’re getting vaccinated, even boosted, because they care about their grandparents and parents. But some young adults say the pandemic has interrupted their school, work and social life too much already and they need to get back to living their lives.

Issac Samayee and his buddy Thomas Moore had been enjoying a few beers on a chilly Friday night on one of Westport’s back streets. Moore was tutoring his friend on how to skateboard.

“All right, bro, good stop!” he shouted as Samayee flipped the board up and hopped off at the bottom of a hill.

Samayee, 23, and Moore, 27, are both vaccinated and have had booster shots. They said they don’t want others to get COVID-19, and that they are annoyed only 56% of Kansas Citians have had two doses of the vaccine.

Samayee, a soft-spoken communications major, has been living under pandemic restrictions since he could legally buy a drink. Like so many college kids, he missed out on campus life while getting his associates degree at Metropolitan Community College.

So, I’m kind of honestly a little over it,” Samayee said. “You know, I’m 23 and I’m only gonna be 23 for so long. By the time COVID’s done maybe I’ll be, like, 27. Who knows how long this f------- thing goes for.”

A woman wearing a brown, pull-over sweatshirt gestures with both hands while talking in front of the entrance to a bar. She's holding cigarette in her left hand.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Ashley Hammond was a server at a restaurant before it closed in November 2020. She's worked non stop since to make ends meet and it's taken a toll.

Ashley Hammond, 27, smoking a cigarette behind one of Westport’s popular bars, was a server at a restaurant that closed in November 2020. She’s had three jobs since then and only a week off in more than two years.

“It just seems hopeless,” she said. “Honestly with my age group, you know, economically speaking, it seems like a f------- apocalypse. It does.”

There is no universal response to the pandemic among young people. Workers deemed essential, like Hammond, have faced more risk than those who could easily pivot to working from home. People of color, disproportionately uninsured and more likely to live in multi-generational households, are contracting the virus at higher rates.

Young adults are disproportionately sufferinghigher levels of pandemic-related depression and anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.

While the omicron variant is sending them to the hospital more than previous strains, this age group tends to be vaccinated and arrive at the hospital relatively healthy, and they're not getting as sick as older or younger patients.

But hospitalizations overall are up dramatically. And people are still dying (mostly those who are unvaccinated).

Hammond described a common experience among people her age: they feel beaten down by graduations on Zoom, they're starving for the social life so integral to their age, and they're exhausted from worrying about jobs and whether they’ll be able to make their rent.

“At some point you have to move on,” Hammond said, throwing her hands in the air. “And we’re still in the middle of it but it’s been long enough that you have the feeling of, like, needing to move on. It’s like grief or something.”

A young man wearing a blue-jean jacket sits at a bar holding a plastic cup, sitting in front of a basket of nachos. He's surrounded by bar setting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Ivan Contraras said he might have waited to get the vaccine until there's more data, but the Marines required it. He said he's treating life "just like any other day" and is not worrying about recent spikes in Covid-19 hospitalizations.

For 29-year-old Ivan Contraras, a Marine sitting at a bar enjoying a heaping platter of nachos, this latest phase of the pandemic has, ironically, brought a feeling of liberation.

He said he’s heard Dr. Anthony Faucci saywe’ll probably all come down with the virus eventually.

Contraras' wife got sick with COVID, but neither he nor his two small kids did. After two years of packed ICUs and people on ventilators, he said COVID 2022 feels different.

“Everybody was kind of freaked out about it,” Contraras said. “I feel like everyone was making a big deal of it but now that we’ve been through it, I feel like everyone’s more relaxed."

But the numbers are still staggering.

There's been more than a nine-fold increase over the last six months in new COVID cases in Missouri, according to the New York Times COVID tracker.

A young man wearing a red sweatshirt and black cap, wearing a surgical mask looks at the camera. He's leaning on a stair railing outside a brick building.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Harish Kumar stayed on campus at UMKC through the holiday. He's encouraged that more people are wearing masks with the latest uptick in Covid-19 cases, but he's less worried about getting the Omicron variant than seeing another shut down of schools, restaurants and shops.

Harish Kumar was leaving the UMKC student center with a group of fellow students a few days before classes began. He’d been here since last fall, when it seemed pandemic conditions were improving.

He said he was concerned when he arrived that no one was wearing a mask, but he’s vaccinated, and said he would soon have the booster shot. He might get omicron, he said, but he believed it won't make him very sick, something research bears out.

“The bigger challenge is stress and isolation," he said. "If we have to quarantine again, that won’t make any sense.”

 A young woman with dark hair, is wearing a blue and white tie-dye hoodie stands looking at the camera inside a dorm room where bags and containers of stuff lie around as she moves in.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Keya Pandey, returning to campus from winter break, is concerned her peer group isn't taking the pandemic seriously enough.

Just down the hill, Keya Pandey was moving in after winter break in her hometown of Joplin, Missouri.

She was rolling a cart full of dorm-life essentials: a slow cooker, a bag of chocolate, assorted toiletries and laundry soap.

Pandey did all her coursework online last term and said she is terrified of having to do so again.

“People are just going out and participating in things, clearly not socially distanced, going into each other’s dorms,” she said, while tucking her traveling suitcase into the small space under her bed. “Obviously coronavirus is a huge deal. Young people should be taking it seriously, which they’re not, at all.”

Or maybe these young people have changed the calculus of their risk, choosing the possibility of getting COVID over continued isolation, uncertainty and fear.

Issac Samayee said it's not that people his age don't care about other people — they do. It's just that this has gone on too long.

“You know, I’m OK going out, doing whatever right now,” he said. "It seems like that’s what people are doing, people my age, at least."

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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