"Do we need to wear our mask?"
It's a question almost every young person we meet this week asks before we interview them. In most cases we’ve interrupted their night, stuck a TV camera in front of them, and asked if they’ll speak to us about life during the pandemic. They’re doing us a favour but they’re so well drilled on the Covid protocols their first instinct isn’t to slag each other about being on the tele (though they do that as well), it’s to check whether we need them to wear masks.
Young people get a bad rep. They’re an easy, visible target. Images like those from the Berlin Bar reinforce the stereotype. But they’re also the section of society whose wellbeing has been significantly affected by the Covid 19 restrictions.
"Although they are less at risk from the disease they are the people who have suffered the most psychologically," Dr Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit explains.
"Their wellbeing centres on their social and relationship lives. What lockdown has done is it has restricted the degree to which young people can socialise and spend time with each other."
Dr Lunn reckons it can be harder for younger people to socialise outside.
"Our data suggests that young women are more likely to go for walks than young men. Men are more likely to go walking when they get partners, but we need to change that. Walking has got to become a bigger social activity."
Going for a stroll might not be on the top of the wish-list for young people but that might be particularly true for those that are heading to college.
Sarah Michelak’s is the new Student Union Entertainment Officer in University College Dublin. In normal times the role centres around organising large-scale events for hundreds if not thousands of students.
"Freshers are expecting big nights out and Coppers. They just want their big first year experience of drinking and going out, even if not drinking, just meeting loads of new people and really getting involved in university life."
But this year the annual student events will be held online, including a charity ball which will be a web-based gig organised with other universities. But the worry is that students, who have spent months studying, working and socialising online, will be looking for real-life interactions when colleges return.
"We are all sick and tired of online quizzes, online meetings and online workshops. However, if that is the way to remain safe then we have to get creative with it and just bear with it a little bit longer," Sarah reflects.
Students may be unsure about college life but Catherine Clancy and the Magazine Road and Surrounding Areas Residents Association are also concerned about what lies ahead. During the summer they held a protest in response to the volume of parties taking place in homes near UCC.
"Please party at your parents home" and "Why are you here?" were among the homemade signs held aloft during the demonstration.
"Since June we’ve recorded 221 house parties, 125 cases where the gardai were called, 99 contacts with landlords, 77 houses involved in these parties and some houses had up to 16 or 17 times that they had parties," Catherine explains.
On one occasion the fire brigade were called to a house and discovered a smoke machine being used during a party.
"We've never seen anything like the behaviour before. It's like they are unaware. They don’t care about Covid-19."
Under the current roadmap universities will return and pubs will reopen in the same two week period. We’ve asked so much of young people already but maybe the real test is only just beginning.