Surviving COVID-19

Often we read about wars and illnesses from the safety and comfort of our homes, feeling fairly certain that they will not force us to make any drastic life changes. But COVID-19 is different; this is the first time that I feel as though I have been affected by a crisis such as this. It is closing our schools, canceling our concerts and changing how we operate on a daily basis. 

Although I am part of the at-risk population the media references —  I have chronic asthma and compromised respiratory function, making me at risk for normal flu viruses — I am conflicted in my feelings regarding the mandated closures. 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says that, “People with asthma should take precautions when any type of respiratory illness is spreading in their community.” The coronavirus first appears like the flu, but settles in as an upper respiratory virus, making it more destructive in people like me who have compromised immune systems and/or limited respiratory function.

On one hand, I understand the closures and cancellations the school and the state are putting into order. They are simply taking necessary precautions for the safety of the public and vulnerable persons like myself.

I have been working with a group of my peers on a project to bring a TEDx to Shaker Heights High School once again, a project that has been in progress since the fall of my junior year, a project that has recently been canceled until further notice. I can speak for the group when expressing our great sadness upon hearing that the event had been canceled; however we discussed this possibility during our meeting that day (several hours prior to the announcement), because we understand the district’s role in preventing community spread. 

These event cancellations are intended to limit large group gatherings, and at the time, the only people believed to be affected were the elderly and those with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, and I am thankful that community officials are being mindful.

Even though I am part of the at-risk population, I am still a typical senior who is frustrated by the fact that I am being robbed of many of my firsts and lasts — prom, graduation, senior project, spring break, college visits, musicals, pranks and more. 

People joke about how the class of 2020 will graduate via Google Hangouts — and this is funny — but this possibility seems more and more real as the pandemic continues. Imagine that — no graduation? I mean, do people truly enjoy sitting in a cramped, bairly air conditioned auditorium waiting four hours to walk across a stage for 45 seconds? I don’t know. Despite that some may see this as a meaningless ceremony, it is something I want to experience, no matter how dreadful it may be.

When I heard about Ohio schools being closed, my first response was not celebratory.

I began to feel guilty for being part of the at-risk group, because if the world was not so worried about individuals like me, then families who cannot afford child care might not be struggling, and people could still be working. While I understand that the coronavirus is an international problem, I can’t help but to feel somewhat responsible.

Not only that, but I am also losing the valuable in-person instruction and lab work that will prepare me for at-home Advanced Placement exams. While International Baccalaureate exams have been canceled for May of 2020, I will still be evaluated based on my internal assessments, and distance learning has put science classes — particularly physics and chemistry — under extreme pressure to complete these, traditionally lab-based, IB assessments with limited resources and innovative thinking. 

Along with worrying about my end of the year testing, per recommendations from my doctors, I am only allowed to leave my house for essential activities, which almost prevented me from voting in this year’s primary election due to health concerns associated in going to polling locations.

For some, this may just be a three week break from school. But for me, it will be difficult to return to school after. As much as I may not want to, I have to follow all of the advice from my doctors, meaning I may be unable to return to school if and when the governor allows it. Attending typical senior events, if they even happen, such as prom, lawn day, and graduation may be impossible depending on how serious the threat is to my health.

I can’t even go on walks with people. My “bubble” consists of my house, my doctors’ offices (where, to limit my time in waiting rooms, I sit and wait in the car until the doctors are ready) and a five- to six-block radius around my house where I can walk my dog. For someone accustomed to having a car and freedom, the world no longer feels like my oyster.

I am frustrated, not at any person or organization, but because I understand they are simply taking necessary precautions for the safety of the public. I’m mad at a disease.

I’m mad at a disease that has the ability to take away things I have been looking forward to since I was little. I’m mad that doctors, nurses, and first responders have to endanger themselves and their families. I’m mad that thousands of people are dying and we don’t have the resources to save them. I’m mad that something only visible through a microscope wields tremendous power over me and society. I’m mad that all of these closures and cancellations are happening just to protect people like me.

My Tik Tok and Instagram feeds are full of teenagers joking about stocking up on supplies and how COVID-19 is just natural selection to wean out the weak. Why is it hard to remember that everyone is being affected by COVID-19, not just people like me? 

All we can do is practice social distancing, follow recommendations by the CDC and hope that this period of trauma and loss ends as soon as possible because it is a burden on the entire world… just remember you are not alone.

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