My Covid Story

Being a 21-year-old college student during a pandemic means, for many, worrying about classes, jobs, and friends. I’m lucky to have access to fast, reliable internet and a quiet, safe place where I took the remainder of my UCLA courses online. For me, the hardest change has been the ongoing worry about ways that I might infect my 74-year-old father since moving back home.

There was little known about the novel COVID-19 virus in the early days, other than the increased risk for serious infection and even death for those older than age 70 or with underlying medical conditions. As I carried those facts in my brain, making my way to LAX on route to live with my parents in Rhode Island, I had a panic attack. Although I was fully covered with latex gloves, an N95 mask, sweatshirt, and sweatpants, and even braided my hair up to be out of the way, the following mantra repeated in mind: “I will never forgive myself if I am the reason my family gets sick.” My plane was crowded, LAX was crowded, and I did not take off my mask for a single second of the 6½ hour flight home. As soon as I got out of the airport I removed all of that disposable PPE (personal protective equipment), threw it into a trash bag, and jumped in the car with my mom.
After two weeks of being home, I was relieved to find that I never showed symptoms nor did anyone in my family. Once those two weeks passed, I still avoided seeing any friends or relatives other than my mom and dad for roughly a month. We all agreed that I would do the food shopping to minimize their potential exposure. Once a week, I put on my mask and gloves armed with hand sanitizer in my pocket and head to the grocery store. I continue to wash everything from the grocery store or leave non-perishable foods outside for a week. My philosophy has been that I can’t be too cautious to protect my parents.
During the lockdown period, the experience was almost easier. There weren’t pressures of choices to make, or friends asking me to go out. The protocol, so-to-speak, was clear cut and unwavering. I recognize, and hope that I don’t take for granted, my privilege of having access to shelter, food, WiFi, privacy, and space. While the stay-at-home order was in place, I didn’t have to worry about going anywhere because there was nowhere to go. The risk of my dad getting infected was minimal as long as I stayed inside. That helped me feel calm and in control.
But now, even with reported cases decreasing in Rhode Island, when I go for a run outside and pass by a biker without a mask, I feel a pang of dread wondering whether there is a chance that I just exposed myself to coronavirus. Sometimes, my anxiety eats at me for hours, admonishing myself for making the choice to go running. I know that the chance of contracting coronavirus outside while exercising with a mask on is very low; but when living with someone who could die if they get infected, worrisome thoughts fly through my head daily. Honestly, I feel exhausted.

I’m a 21-year-old college student; it’s summer, and while all of my friends go to bars and beaches, I stay home.

Now that Rhode Island has opened up its restaurants, bars and beaches, it has been more stressful. I’m a 21-year-old college student; it’s summer, and while all of my friends go to bars and beaches, I stay home. For me, the choice isn’t easy, but it is clear: my dad’s life takes precedence over my ability to socialize and hang out with friends. I think the hardest thing for me has been trying to keep everybody happy. Running or walking outside is essential for my own mental health; but I worry and feel strongly about not doing anything to put my parents at risk. It is challenging to explain to my friends why I don’t feel comfortable going out or spending time with them. People don’t always understand or fully appreciate my concern for my parents’ health.
It hasn’t been the summer I expected; that is true for most people. Removing myself from my usual social life and watching it happen without me can take a toll. It’s difficult to watch my friends having fun as I tune in from a screen. But I feel clear that I would rather miss out on a beach day than cause any harm to my Dad.

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