College during COVID-19: How underlying conditions can interfere with everyday life

By Bridget Gum

How often did you think about the germs on a door knob or desk before the coronavirus pandemic? Or have you thought, ‘I can skip class today because it’s my birthday’ or ‘I’m too tired to go?’ Let me tell you, it is different for someone who is immunocompromised.

I have been living with an autoimmune and immunodeficiency disorder for almost my whole life, and it changes your priorities and how you see the world. It makes you grow up and forces you to be responsible. I can’t skip class when I am not feeling it or even when I am sick, since that happens all the time, because I have to save those days for my doctor’s appointments or I am careful about touching a surface before wiping it down or sharing food.

When I started looking at colleges, I was constantly asked, “Will you be living on campus?” by both people and the applications. My answer was always, “Yes, I desperately need my independence.” Unfortunately, this semester I had to reconsider my decision.

After President Gregory Dell’Omo announced the revision to the Resolved and Ready plan, which meant weeks of remote learning, I decided that if the faculty at Rider did not believe it was safe for people to be in class, it probably was unsafe for me to be on campus at all.

Part of the reason I made my decision was that I know that there are anti-maskers and I do not know if anyone with those beliefs would be on campus. Also, my age group is infamous for being irresponsible and not always making decisions based on logic, so it was a huge concern that those around me would not share my concerns about getting the coronavirus and what that would mean for me. Not to mention that I could follow the restrictions and still could get the coronavirus from touching surfaces others have touched.

Another Rider student, Lydia Zeller, a junior psychology major, lives with her father, has various health concerns and is considered at-risk. Unfortunately, she also lost a grandfather to the coronavirus and she said that it caused her to see the reality of this pandemic.

Zeller chose to stay home partly for her safety and for the safety of those she is quarantined with, but also because she found living on campus to be quite expensive considering she had to be virtual for her classes.

“I’m so curious as to what’s going to happen in the spring. Like, because they’re ready like trying to do hybrid now so I feel like if this works, they’re gonna be like okay we could come back to campus. And then I’m going to be like a lot of one too,” Zeller said. And then, you know, I feel like I do not know if it is going to be an option.”

I have gotten a lot of judgment from people about staying home. If I want to be in college and live independently so badly, why do I not just do it? According to Northwestern Medicine, “People who have autoimmune disorders do not appear to be more likely to contract COVID-19. However, they may have severe complications if their immune systems are suppressed, either by their disease or by medications that treat their autoimmune disorder.” This just means that while I am at just the same risk of getting the coronavirus as anyone else my age, I have a higher chance of not recovering from the coronavirus.

Also, Northern Medicine says that “People with immunodeficiency disorders are at greater risk for respiratory infections than the general population.” Since the coronavirus is a respiratory disorder, I am “more likely to have serious complications after contracting the virus.”

Another Rider student, a junior accounting major Sleyker Tarifa, is also staying at home. He previously attended Raritan Valley Community College and planned on continuing to be a commuter at Rider.

“There’s no point in staying at school and paying thousands of dollars when I can just drive an hour just to go to school,” he said.

While Tarifa’s main motivating factor was saving money, he is also living with his grandfather, who because he is around 70 years old, is considered an at-risk person for contracting the coronavirus. This, he said, is what helps remind himself to wear his mask, keep social distancing and follow other coronavirus restrictions put in place.

However, Tarifa says that when he’s allowed to, he will return to campus for hybrid classes. “Anything to get me out of the house. Plus, I’d rather have in-class lectures. I don’t retain as much when I’m just staring at a screen listening to the professor.”

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