Health Article

Putting the chill on Spain’s Covid-19 hotspots

As Covid-19 spikes again in many European cities, young volunteers hit the streets, trying to cool down the pandemic’s spread by bringing a healthy message to the places where young people hang out.

It’s 7:30 p.m. in Barcelona’s Plaça Reial, and teenagers and young adults are drinking beer and listening to live salsa music. The music electrifies the twilight.

The dangers of COVID-19 are in the air as well. Coronavirus cases in the country spiked during the summer months, but while many in the crowd are wearing masks, which are required by law, there are perhaps a dozen or so people who are not.

For Fiamma Sass, 27, and Lisbeth Encarnacion, 18, it is perfect territory to alert the unbelievers to the dangers of the potentially deadly disease. The two information workers are part of a project developed by the Spanish Red Cross to educate young people from 16 to 23 about the dangers of the virus and what measures they need to take in order to stay safe.

Spain’s second wave

Spain has been besieged with a second wave of coronavirus, driven mostly by infections among young people. According to the Spanish Health Ministry, the total number of Covid-19 cases rose to more 1,2 Million as of early November, when authorities also imposed an evening curfew aimed at reducing night-time gatherings among other measures.

“There are a lot of kids who just don’t believe that the coronavirus even exists,” says Sass. “They say ‘nothing will happen to us. We are immune.’”

In Barcelona and its surrounding area the battle ground against future infection has been in places frequented by young people: the city’s sprawling beaches, its bars and public squares. Also small towns where youth have little to do beyond hang out in public. But equally important, the battleground lives in the minds of youths themselves who often live in a state of coronavirus rebellion.

The two Red Cross workers approach a clutch of young people in the square a pair of Italian men and a young woman from Andorra all of whom are not wearing masks. The pair ask the group to guess when the information workers are standing at a two-meter distance. They are shocked to find that their idea of two meters is much shorter than reality. Later, the two information workers show them just how effective a mask is in preventing the spread of virus-infected droplets.

“There are a lot of kids who just don’t believe that the coronavirus even exists. They say ‘nothing will happen to us. We are immune.”
Spanish Red Cross volunteer Fiamma Sass

1). Lisbeth Encarnacion, 18, beginning her evening shift as a community outreach worker in Barcelona. “Kids tell me about the people in their family who have died. One young man, his brother was on drugs and brought Covid home. He lost his grandmother, then his grandfather three weeks later. Then he lost his two uncles. The family blamed it on his brother.
2). Fiamma Sass, 27, begins her community outreach activities in Barcelona’s old city.

‘Virus is real’

The group takes the presentation in stride but still find ways to express some sort of conspiracy theory. “You want to know the truth?” says one young man about 30 years of age. “I think the virus is real, but there is somebody behind all of this.”

Encarnacion and Sass say such feelings are common. Since the beginning of September, the Catalan branch of the Spanish Red Cross has observed nearly 115,000 young people. Of those roughly half were wearing their masks correctly. The teams in Barcelona and all around in Catalonia have distributed roughly 70,000 masks.

Slowly the team is beginning to see changes. Information worker Najim Rahouti Allouh, 22 recalls speaking with a teenager who was about 18 years old in the city’s Gracia neighborhood. “They were acting like the entire thing was a joke,” he said.

Two weeks later, Rhjouti Allouh ran into the same group at one of Barcelona’s beaches. “When I saw them, they had their masks on,” he said. One of the boys explained. “I spoke to my mom. I realized that it was so important to be able to protect my grandmother. I can get something and give it to her.”

1). Najim Rahouti Allouh, 22 speaks with a young woman from Iran who is currently studying in Barcelona about the dangers of the coronavirus. Students in particular are bearing a psychological burden as the school year begins.
2). From left to right, community outreach workers Dulce Cabrera (originally from Honduras) and Andrea Yacavilca (from Peru) both 26 years of age, speak with a pair of young people about how best to avoid coronavirus. The two are part of a Red Cross program in Spain’s Catalonia region, which has distributed masks to roughly 70,000 young people.
3). From left to right, Matteo Ugarte Torri, 27and Najim Rahouti Allouh, 22 speak with a group of young kids outside of a subway station in Barcelona. They say that one of their biggest challenges is convincing young teens that coronavirus is a threat to them and their families.

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