Young people play on the turf at Scarborough High School on Wednesday. While getting their laptops and books to prepare for classes at home, some students got together for sports and other activities, prompting a stern warning from school officials. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

While students at Scarborough High School were supposed to be picking up laptops from their school this week for at-home learning, some were instead drawn to games of soccer or tennis on nearby athletic fields.

And while the students might have thought it was harmless fun, their actions drew the ire of some community members and a warning from school officials.

“We encourage all athletes and families to follow the guidelines outlined by the medical experts and practice good social distancing, understand that no community fields are being sanitized at this time and there should not be groups larger than 10,” school athletics officials said in an email Thursday to families.

“Everyone is anxious to get back to ‘normal,’ but it is so important that we work together to ensure everyone’s safety.”

The pick-up games are one example of how young people in Maine and nationally have been singled out for dismissive attitudes toward the virus, which poses greater risk to older adults and those with pre-existing conditions. And they illustrate how students, often full of energy and eager to socialize especially while school is out, may struggle more than others with social distancing.

The concept means increasing the amount of physical space between people – experts recommend 6 feet – to prevent the spread of illnesses such as the coronavirus. As of Friday, Maine had 56 confirmed cases of the flu-like virus, which has forced the closure of schools and businesses throughout the country.

According to FiveThirtyEight, a polling analysis website, several polls taken in the last two weeks have shown little difference among different age groups in people’s attitudes toward the virus and their adherence to preventive practices.

Still, it was images of young crowds on Florida beaches for spring break last week that prompted Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott to plead with people to avoid large group gatherings.

In New York state, which has confirmed more cases of the virus than any other state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday brought his 22-year-old daughter with him to a news conference to encourage young people to not go on their spring break trips and to practice social distancing.

Julianna Lafrenaye and her boyfriend, Tyler Clark, move her belongings out of her dorm in the Spring Point Residence Hall on SMCC’s campus on Thursday. “I think a lot of young people aren’t taking (the coronavirus) seriously,” she said. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine officials on Thursday also urged young people to take the virus more seriously after a new Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found 20 percent of people hospitalized with the virus to date in the U.S. have been between the ages of 20 and 44.

“Young folks are not immune or invincible with respect to COVID-19,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said at a news conference in Augusta. “This re-emphasizes the fact that all of us, young people included, need to take the recommendations and engage in social distancing.”

Other school and public officials in Maine have also issued messages encouraging families to be vigilant about social distancing. The city of Portland has recommended not using playgrounds, which are not sterilized, though parks and trails remain open.

In a letter to families, South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin recommended families avoid one-to-one play dates, small gatherings including birthday parties, and visits to enclosed indoor recreation and entertainment areas such as climbing gyms, movie theaters and trampoline parks.

“It also means no soccer or basketball games, and no group hangouts other than the Google variety,” Kunin said. “We love to be together and socialize, but unfortunately, this is not something we should do at this time.”

In an interview Kunin said he has heard from a number of students who are taking social distancing seriously, but he has also heard of impromptu basketball and soccer games.

“There is a bit of the ‘it can’t happen to me’ adolescent mentality,” he said. “We don’t want people to panic, but we do want people to take sensible precautions. Go for a long walk with your family, but don’t have a dinner party with another family who are then in turn going to have lunch with another family.”

In Portland, school board member Marnie Morrione, a parent of a Deering High School senior and another son in college, said that from a parent’s perspective social distancing has been hard.

“College students are home wanting to see their friends,” she said. “As a parent (it’s hard to) understand is it OK to go throw a football or throw a basketball? My boys are very much sports enthusiasts. They like to be outside a lot. It’s super hard to say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ or ‘No, you can’t go visit friends home from college.’ ”

Jessica Marino of Portland, who has three daughters, ages 10, 14 and 15, said the same thing. Portland students, like others around the state, have been out of school all week as a precaution against the spread of the virus, and Marino said her daughters have been asking if they could meet up with friends, even just one friend.

“They’ve said, ‘Why can’t I go see this one friend? I’m not asking to go to see a big group. If this one friend is fine, why can’t I go see them?’ ” Marino said.

“I try to explain that people are contagious before they show symptoms and even though they might be home they still have family members … coming in and out of the house. You can’t guarantee anyone isn’t contagious.”

Instead, Marino said, she has tried to take the girls out of the house daily to go to the beach or hike around the pond at Evergreen Cemetery, but even on the trails it can be hard to avoid bumping into people. Her oldest daughter, who loves sports, has asked if she could meet a friend to kick around a soccer ball, but Marino felt she had to say no.

“We were hearing groups of kids were getting together at the fields,” she said. “There was no way we could drop her off somewhere with confidence other people wouldn’t show up.”

When a reporter visited sports fields in Portland and Scarborough Friday, light rain was falling and there were no signs of large groups, though groups of two or three people were walking or exercising.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists children and teenagers as among groups who could be more easily stressed by the virus. It encourages people to exercise and take care of themselves, but also to avoid groups of 10 or more.

At Southern Maine Community College, where students were busy moving out of their dorms Thursday, some said that while they know of friends who decided to stick to their spring break travel plans, most students still on campus have been laying low and planning to go home to their families.

“I could lose my dad or my uncle or my grandfather, and I really don’t want that to happen,” said Katelyn York, a 19-year-old with heart disease in her family. “Sure, with having my work close down and being home, of course I want to go out and do stuff, but I can’t.”

Julianna Lafrenaye, a senior on the school’s basketball team, said she has friends who have traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to stay with grandparents for spring break.

“I think a lot of young people aren’t taking it seriously,” she said. “They’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m home with my friends. I can go out,’ and their parents are having to inform them it’s pretty scary and they shouldn’t do that.”

After packing up the belongings of her dorm room with her father and boyfriend Thursday, Lafrenaye said she was planning on returning home to Nobleboro, where her family lives, and would be celebrating her 21st birthday there over the weekend.

“I might go to the store and get something and celebrate at home,” she said.

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