The coronavirus-prevention honor system is not working. It is time for us to clamp down on the kids.

High schoolers and young adults in their 20s are behind an alarming pandemic spike in COVID-19 infections in our region and beyond. They are flouting social distancing guidelines and getting infected. This is a threat to our battered economy as well as the prospective opening of schools for millions of children.

Data in recent days show we are being held hostage to the recklessness of a population that is obviously not self-regulating for the greater good. Whether high school students at Shore parties or Generation Y/young millennials hitting bars after virtual work, too many are acting as though the words discipline, sacrifice, and once-in-a-century crisis don’t apply to them.

What this means for the rest of us is destruction. Which is why we must call it out — and call for drastic action.

Two dozen Long Beach Island lifeguards tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, and the number on Monday grew to 35; 25 lifeguards were quarantined in Avalon; and on Monday we learned that 11 of 33 Miami Marlins baseball players had tested positive. The Marlins bombshell went public after the MLB team had hauled the infected squad to Citizens Bank Park and played three games against the Phillies over the weekend.

Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol lifeguards Alex Pendrous, 16, and Matt Boblenz, 22, on Long Beach Island Sunday.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol lifeguards Alex Pendrous, 16, and Matt Boblenz, 22, on Long Beach Island Sunday.

To Major League Baseball, the Marlins debacle is a “coronavirus nightmare” playing out in a sports league filled with twentysomething players. It threatens to end a truncated season that had only just begun. Like millions of Americans on unemployment or with businesses facing destruction, baseball delayed its season owing to fear of the deadly and highly contagious coronavirus.

To the rest of us, the Marlins mess is part of a broader, equally troubling story line involving young adults generally. They are putting society at risk through selfish decision-making that, during a pandemic, multiplies like an infestation of spotted lanternflies.

In Delaware County, public health officials announced Friday that 40% of new coronavirus cases were among people ages 15 to 30. In Camden County, over half of new cases Friday were of people under 30. Three months ago in Camden County, people in their 40s or older accounted for 74% of new cases.

This is happening at the same time that overall case counts are on the rise in general, after a period of relative flattening out. This could be disastrous. You can’t just give hormonal teenagers and young adults a pass because they are hormonal teenagers and young adults. This behavior threatens to wipe out more jobs, more businesses, more educational hours in school — the list is seemingly endless.

“We’ve all been watching with a great deal of anxiety as we’ve seen the [overall] numbers creep up,” Delaware County Councilman Kevin Madden told me Monday. “Positive rates that were down in the 3′s are now up to 6%.”

“Unlike in the early stages of the pandemic,” Madden added, “now a very significant chunk of the positives are among the 30-and-under crowd.”

Adding insult to injury, when they do test positive, Madden said, far too many of these younger people are refusing to cooperate with contact tracing efforts. This stymies public health officials from identifying other potentially infected people and urging quarantines to keep the cases from multiplying further.

“When you are not making mention of those who you have been in contact with, you’re restricting the health department’s ability to combat this virus and to protect your friends and your loved ones,” Madden said. “Contact tracing is meant to protect your friends and family. It’s not about snitching. This is about protecting your friends and family from this virus.”

Sure, it’s summer, and many of us long ago reached a psychological limit on remaining in isolation to prevent the spread of this virus. Months of spring lockdown were brutal and dehumanizing in some ways. All of us are taking measured risks: Get a haircut inside a salon, dine streetside at a restaurant instead of in air-conditioning, go to the Shore for the day and hope you stay safe.

What we have with the 30-and-under crowd is different.

“A lot ... are coming from the beach, where they went to a house party or they went to a bar before it closed and they got COVID-19,” the data in Delaware County show, Madden said.

Maybe they were raised to think only of themselves. Maybe they have never, before Pandemic 2020, gone a week or month or year in their lives not having what they want when they want it how they want it. Whatever the reason, we know this: It is causing harm.

Policymakers might consider taking concrete action to stop this from getting much worse.

Shut down all in-person high school instruction this year. Teens are not being safe — we see this in the coronavirus data. At least someone in the adult world would finally be taking action to protect the health and safety of teachers, other students and families whose health and jobs are on the line if this virus spreads out of control.

The prescription may be harsh, but no harsher than the evidence that leaving it to young adults and teens to act in society’s greater interest is simply not working.