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As COVID cases rise among teens and young adults, a national public health response must quickly adapt. Speaking to NPR, Tammy Chang shared findings from the MyVoice national poll of youth.

According to NPR, from June to August 2020, several counties in Michigan report an alarming rise in new COVID cases in teens and young adults under 30. Additionally, contract tracers in Southeast Michigan and beyond have struggled to reach younger people who test positive for coronavirus and to then effectively trace their network for others who may have been exposed.

Dr. Chang notes that public perceptions of young people’s risk behaviors may not accurately describe how youth are really reacting to the pandemic.

“Viral videos of young people having 4th of July blowouts, or news coverage of graduation parties that lead to outbreaks, are giving the public the wrong idea,” she notes.

Chang is a family physician practicing at the Corner Health Center, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which has a mission to “provide judgment-free, affordable health and wellness care” to 12 to 25 year olds and their children.

She is also the founder of a national text message poll of American youth called MyVoice. The MyVoice team has launched a series of open-ended text message polls on COVID and youth.

Chang described recent themes from the surveys, “The majority of the young people are not only following the [social distancing] guidelines, but the reasons why they said they were following the guidelines…is because they care about the health and well-being of others.”

She notes, “Young people want to help fight this virus as much as anyone.” But they’re not getting enough clear messaging about who contact tracers are, and why they’re calling to ask personal information. It’s why, Chang suggests, “one of the first messages contact tracers have to get across to young people is: no matter what you tell us, you are not in trouble.”

NPR also interviewed Corner Health Center social worker Nicole Bongers, who explained their youth-centered approach to treating and tracing COVID cases.

“Making it confrontational is never a good way to go with our clients. You have to understand where they’re coming from.”

“It’s always, how do you find what they care about? How do you stand alongside them, get on their side and say, ‘Okay, how do we solve this together?’ That’s always the approach that works best.”