Rising Anxieties About COVID-19 and My Immunocompromised Status

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is a frustrating ordeal, but navigating it while immunocompromised is pretty scary. It is now mid-summer and the number of positive cases in this country is still rising at an alarming rate. As states and communities are loosening restrictions, I’m starting to feel the same level of anxiety and concern that I did back in February and March when the pandemic became a real factor in my everyday life.

Technically, I am immunocompromised because of the biologic injection I take to manage my ankylosing spondylitis. The biologic medication works to suppress my immune system, which then may put me at an increased risk for getting a more severe illness if I contract COVID-19.1 (I say "may" because there’s not enough research at this point to support or deny this claim).

Summer complacency and virus deniers

With the increased risk comes added anxiety. This is especially true in those communities across the country that are not following recommendations from healthcare experts regarding social distancing and personal protective equipment, communities that are acting with little concern for their health, the health of others, or the capacity of our collective healthcare institutions.

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Now I have learned a lot about credible sources of information and the importance of recognizing and checking confirmation bias from years of teaching college composition. I have also learned that there are lots of people out there who do not. While I am inclined to trust scientific evidence and health experts, many others hold firm to a general distrust of experts and information that does not confirm their own opinions. But the denial of the virus (and the potential severity of the virus for some) and disregard for the wellbeing of others is not only unproductive, it’s making the pandemic worse (and scarier for those of us in higher-risk categories).

I know--summer is in full swing and we all want to get out of the house and enjoy all of our favorite summertime activities. I’m itching to get outside too. Since May, I’ve had two camping trips canceled because New Mexico State Parks remain closed for overnight use. But regardless of my disappointment, I know now is not the time to become complacent.

Compassion for those at higher risk

Instead of complacency, I argue now is the time for increased compassion for others. Now is the time for a change in behavior for the greater good. Now is the time to adopt personal protective behaviors so that we may protect those in our community (like myself) who are at higher risk for severe complications from the COVID-19 virus.

For me, the stakes are daunting. I don’t know what would happen to me if I contract the virus, and I don’t want to find out. It also does no good to play out potential scenarios in my head of what may or may not happen if I do--that only adds to my stress.

I do find some relief in the New Mexico community, where a majority of people wear masks (masks are mandated by the state). Not only that, but a lot of people wear masks properly! I also take additional precautions by visiting the grocery store infrequently, avoiding peak hours, and social distancing strictly. Regardless, I know that I can’t control the actions of others.

With that said, I’m a big advocate for transparency and understanding. I think that when people understand the stakes, they’re more likely to act accordingly. To seriously commit to personal protective behaviors, including wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing, people need to truly understand the circumstances, how to properly adhere to personal protective behaviors, and why these behaviors are so important.2

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