opinion

COLUMN: I got COVID-19 as a 21-year-old. Am I just another dumb college kid?



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Graduate student Lexi Haskell sits with her cat, Mo. Haskell contracted COVID-19 in September and has since recovered. Lexi Haskell

When I drove down to IU in August, I knew I would probably get COVID-19.  

Since the middle of March, I had been home in the Chicago suburbs. I was lucky my dad could work from home and my mom works in a preschool that got shut down, so she got to stay home as well. Until August, I pretty much didn’t leave my house. 

But when I decided to return to Bloomington for the fall semester, I knew I would be less safe. Yes, my classes were all online. But all my friends who I hadn’t seen in six months would suddenly be living within minutes of me. Of course I would take basic precautions such as wearing a mask, but I’d be lying if I said I thought I was going to be as isolated as I had been at home. 

It took 35 days for me to be exposed to COVID-19 in Bloomington and 39 days to test positive.  

I wanted to write about my experience for a few reasons. First of all, I’ve been feeling such crushing guilt over the past few weeks. Every time I left my house, every time I saw a friend, I felt like I was playing into the “dumb college kid” stereotype that has been at the center of national criticism. And when I wound up being exposed, it took days to find out I even had it. 

But let’s start from the beginning. Social distancing at college — even while trying to be conscientious — is hard.  

Here was part of my situation: My boyfriend has seven roommates (who agreed to live in such a big group pre-pandemic). Five of them have girlfriends. Before factoring in friends, seeing Nick exposed me to more than 30 people. And that number grew exponentially if I saw even just a few other friends.

And herein lies the rocky road of decisions I faced every time I left my apartment: Should I not even go to Nick’s house? How long should I go without seeing him? Was I being selfish? 

I’d also missed Bloomington’s restaurants, and when I got back I saw them following Indiana’s health and safety regulations: outdoor, socially distanced seating. Every time I went to one, I wore my mask when I interacted with a server. I kept the group I went with small.  

But I still felt guilty.  

I was following the rules. I wore my mask everywhere, even on my four-mile runs every other day. 

But I still felt guilty. 

I didn’t go out to meet new people.  

But I still felt guilty. And then I got COVID-19. 

I know by writing this I’m opening myself up to criticism. And maybe I deserve it. I’ve been struggling so much with how I feel about the pandemic and even my own actions. 

I was so good for so long, but then I got to Bloomington and relaxed a tiny bit. A group of friends I had been seeing since I returned to school went to a bar. We sat socially distanced and wore masks, but someone in our group was unknowingly positive. She still doesn’t know how she got infected.

The worst part of getting the coronavirus was the three days I spent not knowing if I even had it. While, yes, I was feeling sick, and yes, I was self-isolating, I didn’t know for sure. 

After finding out I was exposed, my roommate and I got tested Sept. 21. Early the next morning, she received her negative results. Two others who were with us when we were exposed got tested the next day, and they got their negative results Sept. 23. So there I was, feverish and coughing, wondering if I just happened to get another random sickness. (On the bright side, however, I recently learned I didn’t spread COVID-19 to anyone. That made me feel a little better.)

By Sept. 24, my roommate suggested I call the doctor’s office. The first person I talked to was incredibly kind but didn’t know how to access my results. I was redirected to IU Health’s IT department. I didn’t think someone in IT was going to help me figure out if I had COVID-19, so I called another nurse. 

She told me I had COVID-19. 

By all measures, I had a mild case. Mainly, I had a sore throat, fever and chills. If I didn’t know I was exposed to the coronavirus, I would’ve just thought I had a cold. Throughout the eight days I was sick, I had other symptoms that ranged in duration and severity: a cough, nausea and tightening in my chest.  

My mom sent me a pulse oximeter to track my oxygen and a volumetric exerciser to work my lungs. Each day that I was sick, I woke up, checked my temperature and my oxygen and did 10 breaths with the volumetric exerciser. Then I took some Tylenol and got to work. My classes were all online so I didn’t miss any school. Before bed, I repeated my morning routine.

The silver lining about getting COVID-19, however, was how my professors acted. I was first told that I had been exposed while in class, and that professor reached out to me and asked how I was feeling. All three of my professors  — and quite a few classmates — checked in to make sure I was okay. 

I even had friends and family who heard from someone that I was sick and reached out to me. I genuinely felt loved.

I was allowed to leave isolation Sept. 30. I finally felt like myself again, and to celebrate my freedom from isolation, my roommate and I went to Yogi’s Bar & Grill.  During my isolation, Indiana moved to Stage 5 in its reopening plan, so we were sat at a booth between two other parties. 

Two weeks ago, I would’ve been on edge the entire meal, hoping I didn’t unknowingly have COVID-19 to spread to the people on either side of us. But I enjoyed my meal that night. 

While I will probably forever feel guilty for getting COVID-19, I do feel relieved now knowing that I have at least a few months of immunity.

But each morning, I still check my temperature and oxygen levels, I still do my breathing exercises and my lungs still hurt when I go on runs.

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