Immunocompromised & Ignored: How to be safe in a country that doesn’t care

There are an estimated 10 million people with weakened immune systems in the U.S. right now. That’s 1 in 33 people who are especially at risk of contracting COVID-19 and its associated complications. And I’m not talking about 10 million old ladies who live 5 states away that we’ll never cross paths with; these are people we know. They are students, coworkers, relatives, and close friends, and many of them are under 18. COVID-19 isn’t just something that affects “old people.” It isn’t fake. It isn’t “just the flu.”

Right now, we are living through a global pandemic in a country where individualism is the greatest value- where politics and personal convenience have somehow outranked science. And for the millions of people at risk of getting really sick, it doesn’t feel very safe.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have written about this. Two months ago, people stayed more than 6 feet apart, washed their hands for the full 2 minutes, and didn’t take their masks off because it was “too hot.” But now, we’re tired. We’re tired of the constant cleaning, waiting, and isolation. We want our old lives back. So now, we’re cutting back on the rules and letting ourselves relax, and I completely understand why. But we must remember that not everyone has that luxury; just because we feel safe going to the grocery store and touching all of the apples before we pick one doesn’t mean everyone else does, too. As we continue to “loosen up” on the precautions we take, we need to think beyond our own comfort level. Maybe touching all the apples is perfectly safe for us. But what about the next person who comes into the store? Did we unknowingly put them in harms way by getting germs on all of those apples that we didn’t buy? Could we have prevented that situation?

American culture is built upon the “I” and not the “we,” so it’s hard to think beyond ourselves when we’ve been conditioned to for our entire lives. But in times like these, it’s not about thinking “I’m healthy, so I can do what I want. If I get the virus I’ll be fine.” It’s about thinking, “I’m healthy, but I know that not everyone is. I’m still going to take precautions, even if it’s uncomfortable or annoying, because I want to prevent those people from getting really sick.” It’s about sacrificing out own convenience for the safety of our communities.

As states begin to enter “Phase 4” of the pandemic response and life begins to feel “normal” again, it’s important to remind ourselves that it isn’t. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, and the vaccine is still not ready. Nothing has changed besides people’s levels of comfort and fear. Of course, we can’t sustain a total quarantine for multiple months. However, there are steps we can take to support members of high-risk groups during this time.

If you are immunocompromised or high-risk for another reason, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about what they feel is safe for you. Nothing I write here is medical advice; I’m just a kid telling you what I think.

So, here is a list of actions you can take to protect yourself and others, especially those in high-risk groups.

  1. Clean! Keeping things clean is essential to preventing illness. If you let someone use something of yours, clean it well in between uses. Continue to wash your hands and any objects that you bring in public like a phone. Taking the 2 minutes to wipe something down can be annoying, but it is worth it!
  2. Wear a mask! When you are in a public place, wear a mask to protect yourself and the people you come in contact with. Even if other people nearby do not have masks, focus on your own actions and do the best you can to wear yours.
  3. Don’t touch! Practice social distancing and stay apart from others. Don’t touch anything that isn’t yours unless you have to. At the store, take what you need and leave. If you want to see something on your friend’s phone, let them show it to you or at least ask before taking it. Just because you are okay with people touching you or your things does not mean everyone else feels that way. There is no harm in asking if you can touch something or sit somewhere. And there is nothing rude about telling someone no, they can’t hold your phone.
  4. Don’t share! Right now, sharing is not caring. Avoid using the same pens or other items as someone else unless they are being cleaned in between uses. And don’t share food! If you order something to share, have it be divided in half before you get it to minimize touching someone else’s food.
  5. Be mindful! Think about the people you are interacting with and be mindful that they might have a different comfort level than you. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid people who are extra careful; just ask them what they are comfortable with and comply if they ask you to wash your hands or wear a mask. And if you know someone who can’t go grocery shopping, offer to shop for them and use precautions when you go to the store.

I’m not expecting everyone to follow each of these ideas to the t. Have I been closer than 6 feet away from a friend? Yes. Have I taken off my mask the second I step into a parking lot? Yes. But the purpose of this is not to call out all of the mistakes that have been made; it is simply a reminder that the Coronavirus is not gone and that we can all do a better job of keeping each other safe.

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