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Perspectives from a Student at High Risk for COVID-19

While The Review is very hesitant to publish unsigned opinions, we have chosen to make an exception in this case out of concern for medical privacy. The Review has verified the authenticity of this letter.

I am a Saint Vincent student as much as anyone else here, but I've never felt more disconnected from my fellow students than now. When I first visited Saint Vincent, I fell in love with the Bearcat community that was palpable in the air. Yet, this community no longer seems to include me. Why? Because I am at high risk for COVID-19.

I have watched from the sidelines, in horror, as our case counter continues to rise steadily. If I were to contract COVID, I would be a severe case. I might never recover. One of my chronic illnesses is already likened to long-COVID and I am here to tell you that you do not want it. The symptoms of long-COVID, such as severe fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath, are debilitating. I frequently hear my peers dismiss COVID, unafraid for their safety because of their age, and likening it to the flu. COVID is far worse than the flu, and our actions now have lasting consequences.

Because I am high risk, I spend almost all of my free time alone. I have not set foot in the cafeteria since early in the first semester, and I rarely see my friends. A devout Christian, I have not been to my church in more than a year. I have adapted my life completely in order to avoid COVID as much as possible. But it's impossible for me to avoid COVID on my own. That's simply not how virology works. A quick visual scan of any hall reveals at least several students with their masks left below their noses. Even after reminders by professors, my classmates keep their masks down in class. All of these settings pose dangers to me and other students like me.

Every unmasked gathering both on and off campus places me at risk, even if I am not there. Catholic Social Teaching upholds the dignity of those who are vulnerable and stresses our obligation to care for them. So why, then, at a Catholic college, do so few people seem to care about the safety of those around them? Not wearing a mask may not feel like a declarative statement as such, but it unequivocally is. Willingly violating the basic rules put in place to protect the vulnerable disregards human life—lives like mine. I am your friend, your floor-mate, your classmate. I am not alone. My life has worth.

Now more than ever, the Bearcat community should be what connects us. Instead, I feel only isolated, continually afraid of contracting COVID. A year into the pandemic, our Saint Vincent community should give us strength to continue following the rules put in place to protect us. I am begging you to remember me the next time you want to leave your mask down in a public setting. Is it really worth the very real possibility of seriously derailing someone's life?

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