Covid’s Impact on Immunocompromised People

Leah Wimpfheimer, Staff Writer

Recently in our community and around the world, people have become used to a “new normal”: wearing masks in public, staying six feet away from loved ones as well as strangers, wondering where to buy disinfectant, and taking other measures necessary to avoid Covid-19. While these “new normal” measures aren’t uncommon, they are not just inconveniences to those who are immunocompromised. In fact, they’re absolutely essential. People who are immunocompromised are at a higher risk of Covid-19 because they have a medical condition or are undergoing treatment that weakens their immune system. This includes people living with cancer, HIV, AIDS, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more. As a type one diabetic myself, not only do I have to follow these precautions to a tee in order to protect myself, but I also have to be extremely conscious of what others are doing when they are around me. 

If I’ve learned anything from the last six months, it’s that some people are more cautious about Covid than others; some don’t understand the gravity of the situation and believe that they are at a low enough risk of getting it or dying of it that they have chosen to lead a semi-”normal” life. These people have caused quite an issue for me and my family. Especially since the summer started, people have become less and less careful while in public. Many of those refusing to wear masks argue that it makes them uncomfortable or out of breath, but in my case, those masks are pretty much the only way I can go outside my house. While my mask might prevent spreading the virus to others, if others don’t also wear a mask they can still infect me and put me at risk.  And many with masks don’t wear them properly; with their noses out or with the mask hanging around their chin. Because of this, my family has been increasingly worried about my health, seeing as those with compromised immune systems stand less of a chance against the virus. Now that we are entering the new school year, these concerns have my family worried about how safe it is for me to attend school in person.

While the school has put many policies and rules in place to protect the students and staff, I have been debating whether or not going back is worth the risk. For the most part, my peers understand the feeling of longing to go back to normal: going to school, hugging friends and family, and living under pre-pandemic circumstances. That’s why I’m scared. People want everything to go back to how it was so badly that they are risking the lives of others to live it out. If I am to go back to school, no matter how many policies and rules are in place, there are definitely going to be those who don’t comply with them, whether they do so intentionally or mindlessly. Many believe that children are at lower risk of getting Covid-19; however, the CDC has released that children aged eighteen and under are likely to be asymptomatic. In other words, those of us going back to school might have it and not know it. 

Many news outlets have shared that schools and colleges that have returned already have had reported cases; one in particular was a girl in a Georgia high school who shared a picture on social media that showed students and staff crammed in the hallway, and very few with masks. Even in states with a lower amount of confirmed cases and carefully curated rules, there is still danger, especially to those with compromised immune systems. Many colleges have already opened, including ones in Maine such as University of Maine Orono, which has already experienced a spike in Covid cases since the return of students and staff to campus. While I know that RSU21 has already issued rules about wearing masks and their plans to separate the class, it’s still a nerve-wracking time for everyone, immunocompromised or not. 

Even though I understand the importance of going to school in person and seeing friends both in and out of school, this heightened concern of getting Covid-19 for immunocompromised people has helped me to understand the risk associated with it. While many students and adults alike may not be taking precautions against Covid-19 as seriously as someone like me is, their desire to get together with others or not wear masks puts people like me at risk. While these simple actions of going to school and meeting up with people might not seem like a big ask, this simple action could get immunocompromised people sick, or even become fatal. Many teenagers and kids don’t think this way unless they are forced to; being immunocompromised I’ve had to remove myself from uncomfortable situations where others tried to pressure me into doing something that I was not only uncomfortable with, but could also put me in harm’s way. If we can understand this as a community, then we can protect not only ourselves, but also those who are at higher risk of dying from Covid-19.