Editor’s Note: Andrea Hoffman is a second-year student at Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio, double majoring in political science and public relations with minors in public policy, public health, pre-law and religion. Andrea and her twin sister Alyson are both living with cystic fibrosis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The news of Covid-19 vaccines provides some hope of a return to a more normal life throughout the country. Yet, millions, like me, will continue to live life with a Covid-19 mindset, paying attention to how each decision could put their lives at risk.
To the outside world, I appear to be a typical healthy 19-year-old, but I was born with cystic fibrosis (CF) – a progressive, life-limiting disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits one’s ability to breathe. Adherence to safety protocols is a matter of life and death for me.
Throughout my life, my to-do list has consisted of clearing my airway, doing breathing treatments, and taking lots of medications. It’s a complex disease. The everyday choices I make are calculated moves to preserve my health and life. The daily decisions many of you have been making – physically distancing, wearing a mask, deciding whether or not to go to a party – are ones I have been making my whole life. I’m more prone to getting infections like the flu, pseudomonas, MRSA, and Covid-19. You could say that I washed my hands several times a day before it was cool. Jokes aside, I take infection control measures seriously and for the health and safety of others, you should too.
My hope is that after the pandemic, it becomes second nature for people with healthy immune systems to think about the fact that millions of people like myself with suppressed immune systems are living among them and act accordingly by normalizing simple public health practices. When you are sick, wear a mask to the doctor or to the hospital. Stay away from others when you are sick. Regularly clean and sanitize your hands and surfaces.
Living with CF certainly complicates college life, and even more so in a pandemic.
Last fall, I was enjoying my freshman year of college at Ohio Northern University. Suddenly, in March, like so many others, the university chose to finish the semester through remote learning. It was yet another consequence of Covid-19. Although this was not how I had envisioned my first year of college, I appreciate the caution that was taken. Early this year, when the decision was announced that we would be able to attend classes in-person for the fall, I was very excited, but cautious.
Is the lecture hall safe? Do I need additional treatments? Is it OK to hang out with friends? Did this dining room table get cleaned? These types of questions have always been a part of my life. Some variation of them come up at the grocery store, library or any public place.
I consulted my doctors, and they were confident in me, knowing I have been, quite literally, prepared for a pandemic my whole life.
And thankfully, our university has taken aggressive steps such as enhanced cleaning, mandatory face coverings, socially distant classes, limiting the size of gatherings, and random testing. Not only has it made my life safer, but we were also able to complete the semester in-person with very few cases across campus. I was able to engage with in-class discussion, get involved with campus activities, and make new friends throughout the fall.
Like most during this time, I haven’t attended parties and other events. The adjustment to a more reclusive college experience is easier for a CF patient. Canceling or changing events is an unfortunate reality for us. As a child, if a friend had the sniffles, I didn’t go to the sleepover. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve said no to friends and family stopping by and set limits on my contact with college friends to stay healthy.
This has been a time of anxiety and vast unknowns for the world. Anxiety is common in those living with CF. When I see fear on my friends’ faces, I realize that they are experiencing the same feelings that I’ve had throughout my life. There is a heightened awareness about how the decisions you make, or the decisions others make can make you sick.
Covid-19 represents the worst public health crisis the United States has faced in a century. It is fair to say that every life has been affected by the pandemic in some way. In addition to economic instability, more than 17 million Americans have tested positive for the disease, and more than 300,000 have died.
It has brought to the forefront all the cracks of a crumbling health care system, where inadequate and costly insurance and stories about shortages of hospital beds and ventilators caused us all to think about rationing medical care.
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It’s been a somber year, and I understand the collective sigh of relief many are having with the distribution of vaccines. Yet, for many months to come, I urge you to remain vigilant – following safety protocols to protect your family, your friends, your neighbors, and people like me. I will continue living with a Covid-19 mindset long after others have gone back to their normal lives. Until then, I hope everyone considers how their daily behavior helps or harms their fellow citizens. So many lives depend on it.