Does this help solve the mystery of why America’s outbreak is spiraling while Europe’s is collapsing? All this time we’ve been hashing out theories that we reopened too soon, or that the George Floyd protests seeded outbreaks.

Maybe the explanation is simpler. Maybe we’ve raised a generation of sociopaths who can’t be convinced to care about other people despite 24/7 messaging for months about chains of transmission.

If this is true — and that’s a big if — start locking people up. Intentionally turning yourself into a virus vector is de facto assault on the people around you.

Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, are reportedly throwing “COVID parties” with their friends and gambling on who will get sick first, according to local officials.

City council member Sonya McKinstry testified Wednesday that a series of previously reported parties were all part of a morbid game that included intentionally inviting COVID-positive students in an attempt to intentionally contract the deadly virus.

“They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense,” she said.

The ABC report below links a party held by twentysomethings in Rockland County, New York, to the same phenomenon but the evidence that attendees were trying to get infected is thinner. Apparently the host of the party was symptomatic; whether people who showed up saw that and thought “Eh, I’m sure it’s nothing” or thought “Sweet, I’m looking to catch COVID” is unclear at the moment. Local authorities are trying to find out who was there and might now be at risk by interviewing attendees and tracing their contacts — but some of them won’t cooperate. We’ve reached the point where subpoenas need to be issued to get people to help contain an outbreak before it gets rolling.

“Why were they holding a house party at a moment like this?” you ask. Good question. Why were they? A better question would be, why are attendees considering doing it again? Quote: “County officials also are aware that some of the people connected with the gathering were considering violating quarantine orders and holding their own parties or attending others this weekend.”

These are extreme examples of younger adults ignoring social distancing rules, obviously, but the fact remains that twentysomethings are the engine of the outbreak that’s exploding across the south right now. Ask them why they’re taking risks when they’re being begged not to and some will tell you frankly that because their personal risk of death is negligible they just don’t care. Why the same logic isn’t driving a new outbreak in Europe is a mystery to me. Their young adults know just as well as ours do that they’re all but certain to survive a brush with coronavirus (although neither cohort may fully realize how long the aftereffects can last). Maybe they’re more diligent about mask-wearing, although it’s hard for me to imagine, say, French twentysomethings dutifully masked up at bars or parties. Maybe there’s some enforcement mechanism in Europe that’s making it harder to host parties, but I can’t imagine what it would be. They’re not surveillance states.

Unless there’s something happening with the virus itself in Europe, either a less infectious strain circulating or prevalence so low that people can no longer dose each other with a viral load sufficient to cause infection, one would think it has to be that young Europeans are simply more conscientious about not socializing in groups right now than young Americans are. I mean:

They’re putting more than lives at risk by tossing social-distancing guidance out the window. The outbreaks in the south and California seem destined now to jeopardize America’s nascent economic recovery:

Consumers who see the risk of infection soaring are unlikely to remain consumers for long.

A debate has been ongoing since March about whether lockdown orders were truly needed to contain the initial outbreak in the U.S. Some say yes and point to Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s delays in locking down New York as the factor that doomed that city to a ferocious epidemic. Others say no and point to various data showing that Americans across the country, including in NYC, had begun to isolate themselves in fear of the virus even before stay-at-home orders were issued. I’m sympathetic to that view myself: So long as people have sound, up-to-date information on the state of the pandemic in their community, they’ll make rational risk assessments and alter their behavior accordingly — I think. We’re now in the process of testing that theory in the highest-stakes way. No state has reverted to a full lockdown amid the current wave of infections, although targeted restrictions aimed at bars and restaurants have been reimplemented. The rise in cases, especially in the south, has received heavy media coverage. Americans in those states know the situation. They should be changing their behavior right now if they haven’t already, which means we should gradually begin seeing cases fall soon despite the lack of top-down state interventions. If we don’t see that, and lockdowns need to be reinstated in order to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, that’ll force a major rethink of my assumptions about “rational risk assessments.” I don’t where we go from there.