By Jeremy Mauser || Contributing Writer
It’s January 4, and the nasal swab is shoved up my nose. This was far from my first time being tested for COVID-19, considering I attended in-person classes in the fall, but this time was different. Instead of sitting in the ASFC, I was sitting in my dad’s truck. Instead of carrying on with my day like normal afterward, I rested in bed for hours on end. Instead of awaiting an assumed negative result, I dreaded the inevitable positive result.
Hours later, it became official: I had tested positive for COVID-19.
In the initial months of quarantine last year, I knew friends of friends whose distant relatives had tested positive. Months later, friends of friends had tested positive. Then close friends and family members, then myself, and my brother, and my parents, and my grandparents. Despite any previous skepticism about the pandemic-related restrictions that came from others and ourselves, it became clear to us why we need to take the virus so seriously.
Perhaps the most frustrating part, then, comes from how many people I had witnessed engaging in blatantly reckless behavior without contracting the virus, with Snapchat friends at F&M and beyond attending indoor weddings, partying in apartments, and flying for pleasure. I took the virus more seriously than most: I made exceptions for my roommates and close friends, but beyond that, I limited my contact with the outside world, wore masks everywhere, and remained diligent in any other safety measures.
Yet I still contracted the virus.
Back home after making it through the fall semester without being exposed to the virus, or even having any close calls that I’m aware of, I thought that I would be perfectly safe until returning for the spring semester. My family had been seeing family friends on the weekends, and because they took safety precautions seriously to the extent that they refused to enter a grocery store, I felt safer than I had in months. But the virus doesn’t care about how safe you’ve been other than that one time you saw someone; if you’re exposed, you’re exposed. If you’re maskless and in close contact, you only have yourselves to blame.
We can’t be sure how the family friends contracted it, but after spending some time with them, we went on with our daily lives: my parents worked, I ordered take-out, and my brother attended virtual high school classes. Thankfully, we acted safely in those few days where we carried the virus unknowingly. We refrained from seeing friends or anyone else without masks, except for two people: my grandparents.
They invited us over for a brief visit, and they told us not to worry about masks because we had been so careful. We maintained more than six feet between us and them in our hour-long visit, just in case, but we still met indoors because it was cold outside. When we left, we had no idea what we had done.
Later that night, I developed a sore throat, but I thought nothing of it—it was late December, and it would be weird if I didn’t go to bed with a stuffy nose. The next morning, as I sat through a virtual mock trial meeting, I developed serious fever-like symptoms, a headache, nausea, a sore throat—the list goes on. I began to worry more when I learned that one of the family friends had begun coughing, although he insisted that he showed these symptoms every year. The next day, my symptoms got worse, and my mom began showing the symptoms I had shown the previous day.
We cycled through different symptoms, and between the four people living in my house, we showed nearly every symptom associated with the coronavirus. But more stressful was wondering whether my grandparents would exhibit the same symptoms, and whether they would be worse for them, and whether they would survive them.
The answer came when my grandfather developed a runny nose one day; then a week later, my grandmother landed in the hospital. It didn’t stop there—in the month that followed, my grandfather checked himself in once, and my grandmother ended up in the hospital three times, barely able to breathe.
From the beginning of the pandemic, my family and I always said that if we gave the virus to my grandparents, we would never forgive ourselves. We were right.
I hope that I’m not jinxing myself by writing and publishing this, but everyone—including my grandparents—is doing much, much better now. But it came at a cost. My family’s senses of taste and smell have barely recovered, a family friend still feels fatigued at all times of day, and my grandparents may never fully recover from the virus. None of us were able to work for two weeks, and we’re feeling the financial repercussions.
What’s done is done, but all of this was preventable.
We were safer than most other people we knew, yet we contracted the virus when many others haven’t. We all survived, but we still lost plenty. And now that many of us are back on campus, I’m not nervous about my health (these antibodies should hopefully come in handy), but I’m nervous about everyone else.
Just because you’ll probably survive after contracting the virus doesn’t mean it’s fair to you or anyone else to engage in behavior that increases your chances of becoming exposed or unknowingly exposing others. I can’t express how badly I wish to travel to a mock trial competition with my favorite team, or attend one of my fraternity’s parties, or hang out with my fellow Writing Center tutors after an evening shift. I want normal, but the world isn’t normal right now. What we do doesn’t just affect us—it affects everyone around us, including people we don’t know.
We don’t want to be sent home. We don’t want a second group of seniors’ final semester to be cut short. We don’t want to wonder whether people we exposed the virus to will die because of our actions. I’m writing this because I learned a lesson the hard way, but I was still lucky.
We can’t control what anyone’s doing elsewhere in the country or the world, but we can control our actions. To have a fun, safe semester, we need to consider the risks of our actions and mitigate them as much as possible. We’ve made it this far, and I’m proud of the hard work that our community has done and will continue to do.
Junior Jeremy Mauser is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.