All it takes is one faulty test and a bad decision. One failed reading and a super-spreader spending the night in another dorm room.
While the infrastructure to contact-trace and isolate has been laid out, I can’t help but feel the system is not meant for people like me.
We’re in the middle of the summer, a time that back in April I predicted would tell if the pandemic had gotten better or worse. Unfortunately, in America things have gotten worse. As schools get ready for the fall semester, many college students are debating whether they should go back to campus or remain remote, if they even have a choice.
As a person with diabetes, I made the choice one month ago that I will not be returning in person for the fall semester, and if you find yourself in similar circumstances, I would suggest you do the same.
For many, school is a reprieve from life at home. Tuition costs are increasing whether classes are in person or remote, and the financial burden of a student living at home can weigh on a family. Yet people with chronic illnesses are forced to give extra consideration to this choice. Even with stable blood sugars that should mean I am not immunocompromised, I must weigh the effects of a quarantining campus on my lifestyle and what could happen if I were to get Covid-19 at school.
As of the end of July, my school — Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York — was among the one-third of U.S. colleges offering the option of a return to campus or remote learning for the fall. Returning students are expected to follow the protocols without fail; students on campus will be expected to remain there for the duration of the fall semester. As with any experiment, there are variables, and the following are what ultimately led to my decision to remain away this fall.
A major concern for a person with diabetes is food. While Vassar students once enjoyed an all-you-can-eat spread for 18 hours a day, pandemic dining has shifted to prepackaged meals that must be taken to go. Other measures to decrease outside interference with the student body include the in-school marketplace that will sell general goods and food. This is to replace the need to visit an outside market or grocery store.
The thought of losing control over what I can eat scares me. I make mistakes and sometimes slightly overdose with my insulin. Not being in control of what food is available or when is something I cannot give up; it could be life-threatening for me.
The control needed from a “quarantining student body” would interfere not only with my diet but also my activity. Our fitness center will be open by appointment only and severely limited in capacity. The ability to exercise has significantly benefited my blood sugars as well as my overall health. But if I have to prioritize getting a meal at the appropriate time between classes, will I be able to work out as scheduled without fending off a low blood sugar?
While food and activity are important, my biggest concern is local medical care. The area is not known for its medical facilities; there is not a single endocrinologist who specializes in Type 1 diabetes within a two-hour radius. My supplies are limited to delivery by mail or by pharmacy if I stay on campus. Even outside of the pandemic, these logistics presented a hardship; I never found a suitable endocrinologist when I was at school.
Now I consider the worst-case scenarios, a necessary evil of living with a chronic condition. Suppose there is an outbreak at Vassar. What will be the logistics of my accommodations for food and medicine then? Does the surrounding area have sufficient infrastructure to withstand a spike from the college? How can I ensure my own survival when there are no guarantees for even my healthiest college classmates? If I do contract Covid-19 and it is more than mild symptoms, is there enough expertise to handle my potential disease and my Type 1 diabetes?
Aside from physical health, the sheer mental toll on the student body will be tremendous. There are so many personal factors that could exacerbate the stressfulness of the situation, and for me, it’s my diabetes. With administrators facing monumental challenges simply in operating, I cannot run the risk of becoming infected nearly 3,000 miles from home, let alone needing to negotiate for accommodations.
I have the privilege and the resources to stay at home this upcoming semester. In fact, I have enough credits to graduate a semester early and will thus be able to take the fall semester off. Even so, the spring may hold another semester of remote learning, and that’s okay for me. Covid-19 has upended the world but life will always force its way forward. This semester, I am making the decision to not let the fear of missing out dictate what I do, and I encourage others to do the same.
This story about returning to campus with chronic illnesses was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.