In the weeks leading up to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns in the United States, many people made light of the situation, saying that "it's just another version of the flu" and "it only affects older people." Even a couple of weeks in, there are still people trying to go to the beach, trying to eat out, trying to travel and still not taking this seriously.
Maybe it's just me, but when I see perfectly healthy adults (like P!nk) getting sick and saying, "This is the scariest thing I've ever been through in my whole life," there are warning signs going off in my head.
I decided to interview some women I know whose lives would be put at unique risk how they feel about the coronavirus and, more importantly, how they feel about people not taking it seriously.
1. Carli, a pre-med student from Fort Myers
Carli is currently working as a medical scribe that works with ER physicians, so she has been able to learn through years of living with IgA deficiency. IgA deficiency is an immune system condition in which a body doesn't have enough of the immunoglobulin known as IgA, making her much more susceptible to viruses such as the coronavirus. Two years ago, she found out she had blood clots that damaged her lungs and heart.
"Because of my IgA deficiency, my body does not have the protein that fights infections (antibodies), which means that if I do catch COVID-19, I could end up very, very sick and probably end up in the ICU."
Carli spends a large amount of time and energy during cold and flu season to provide herself with extra protection, such as getting her yearly flu shot. Carli was the person who inspired me to get yearly flu shots regardless of whether I'm susceptible to the flu or not.
"I wash pretty much all of my sheets and clothes extra during flu season. I wipe down EVERYTHING in my apartment at least once a day (including counters, tables, my bathroom, all handles, etc.). I do my best to keep my distance from those who have any symptoms of being sick and wash my hands VERY frequently. I also keep a bunch of bottles of hand sanitizer in my apartment, my purses, and car to carry with me at all times."
The truth is that COVID-19 is a quickly spreading virus, and the belief that it only affects one age group is very dangerous. The one thing that she has found to be the most frustrating is that everyone says that only old people get really sick.
"But what college kids and younger people don't know is that there are people like me out there with several illnesses and are immunocompromised, which means that we are also in that high-risk group of people (not just old people)."
Her words of wisdom to everyone right now are this.
"Just make sure to stay home and not be stupid by going out drinking or going to the beach because it only takes one person to pass the virus to hundreds of others."
2. Lauren, a Chi Omega from Fort Myers
Lauren (left) is a Chi Omega from my chapter at Florida Gulf Coast University. Lauren has several undiagnosed, ongoing respiratory problems that she's been fighting her whole life. Her symptoms tend to range from mild to severe, and she's more susceptible to bronchitis, the common cold, and allergies, which can result in a barking cough. For Lauren, catching COVID-19 would be extremely problematic.
"The last time I had a respiratory infection similar to COVID-19, I was in the hospital because my pulse oxygen would not go above an 85 (the normal is 90 – 100)."
As someone who is more susceptible to the virus, Lauren has to be more attentive to her lungs so that something as simple as the common cold or viral infections don't lead to more complicated health problems.
"If I get a cold, I will most likely get bronchitis as a result. So things like washing my hands, being cautious of my surrounding, i.e. if someone is sick around me, etc."
Lauren wants to stress about why quarantining is important and WHO it's important for.
"This quarantine isn't for able-bodied people with regular immune systems. You need to be extra cautious for those who don't have the privilege of being safe from this horrible virus."
3. Katelyn, a broadcasting director from Bradenton
Katelyn is the weekend station producer for Sarasota News Network and currently is keeping everyone up to date with COVID-19 news. She has asthma and severe allergies that can trigger shortness of breath and can even close her throat up.
"If I caught COVID-19 it would severely attack my lungs because they're already so weak — I already have a hard time with regular respiratory infections."
Unlike many other people, Katelyn is unable to socially distance herself from her work since the news is "essential work." As someone who sees more statistics and information than the majority of us, Katelyn is constantly worried about her chances of catching the virus.
"Working at the station I have heard so many stories of losing family members and how it's absolutely destroyed them. Seeing the statistics and numbers every day is getting scary."
4. Sharla, a mother from Bradenton
This is Sharla, a mother of three from Bradenton, Florida with multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Sharla's symptoms range from nose bleeds and bone pain to fractures, hypercalcemia, renal failure, and anemia.
"I don't fight infection well, for example, an upper respiratory infection could lead to pneumonia for me. If I run a fever of over 100 degrees, it's an immediate ER trip for me."
Sharla, like other cancer patients, usually does chemo or takes some other form of treatment that blocks their white cells from fighting off infection, thus causing them to become immunocompromised. During cold and flu season, Sharla has to be extra cautious.
"Social distancing is nothing new for me as I generally live in a bubble every day anyway. The one thing I have really hyped up is wearing gloves and always wearing a mask if I have to go out."
Sharla makes re-useable cloth masks that she donates to local hospitals and charities.
"I would want everyone to know that just like cancer this virus will not discriminate against anyone, EVEN if you are healthy."
5. Amber, an Odyssey creator from FGCU
Hi guys, it's me, your friendly immunocompromised Odyssey creator. I rarely write about this portion of my life because it's so surreal compared to all the other bad luck I've had in my life. When I was young, I had asthma, allergies, and epilepsy — which I eventually grew out of. As the years progressed, I lacked the need for an inhaler as long as I constantly kept up with my allergy medication.
Things started to get worse when I left my hometown behind and went into the college phase, known as "taking care of my own health." In the second semester of freshman year, I got a severe case of mono and bronchitis that brought back my asthma and hung over me as I finished an incomplete semester. The second semester of sophomore year I caught, what I thought, was a bad strain of the flu. Unlike every other flu I had experienced in my life (all of which were pretty terrible), this one was different. At one point, I remember not being able to eat because I could barely breathe and passing out a lot. My mom took me to the ER to get some medication, and I found out it was bronchitis with pneumonia. It took a while, but once I recovered, I started to be extremely careful when it came to my health (getting a flu shot, eating well and practicing self-care, being extra careful around flu season).
If I caught the coronavirus, it would be really bad. My friends and family are currently pushing for me to be extra careful when out in public — only going out when REALLY needed and staying away from others. My parents have been careful, making sure to wash their hands before giving me a hug and we've spent most of our time inside. My friends are doing the same (even though I miss them). I've been watching a lot of doctors online talking about patients who've died alone, without their family or anyone they love. That's the part no one seems to understand, and I think that's the part that scares me the most.
To combat the virus, I started isolating a few weeks before Florida went into lockdown. I go out once a day to take my dogs on a walk or to make a splash in my parent's pool. The store I worked at is closed, so I'm currently dependent on my parent's income. Aside from schoolwork or Odyssey writing, I spend the majority of my time catching up on Netflix shows, painting, reading, or doing housework. To anyone who isn't taking this seriously — I hope you have good health insurance.