June 5, 2020

At Risk COVID19

Fortunata and John Darmody wave from the front porch of their St. Louis home.

By Alex Darmody

Logging on to any form of social media in this time period is a minefield.

Whether it be an estranged family member posting about how COVID-19 is a liberal scare tactic, a classmate talking about hating their government officials, or someone selling homemade face masks, social media is rampant with grumblings from people about the times we are living in.

But one thing we don’t see much of on social media is complaints from those at risk.

There are a reported 1.37 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. currently, with some 81,000 deaths recorded. COVID-19, a respiratory virus, is an allegedly flu-like disease that is potentially deadly for many, but especially those with underlying health conditions.

My own grandparents, who live in St. Louis, had something to say about their personal risk factors.

“Death,” said 76-year-old John Darmody about what he feared most.

“I am unable to visit my grandchildren or hug them,” said his wife, Fortunata, 75.

But they still have a sliver of hope.

“I think Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given us more info on what is going on than anyone else,” my grandmother said. “We listen to his briefing every morning.”

They both had a slightly positive attitude, despite the long list of ailments that made them at risk for COVID-19.

“Our mayor implemented the stay-at-home order, companies are allowing people to work from home,” she said. “And there are mobile food drives set up by public schools like Oak Hill on Morganford Road.”

Darmody chimes in, a tad cynical, however, when referencing Donald Trump’s reluctance to strongly endorse shelter-in-place orders across the country.

“Nobody wants to challenge the president,” he said. “The government is always late with everything,”

Despite my grandparents’ positivity—even with my grandfather’s dash of salt—some people aren’t looking at this situation as hopefully. Others are at-risk, just like the elderly, but for different, less obvious reasons.

“I have celiac disease and my mom has multiple sclerosis,” said 20-year-old St. Louisan Avery Becker. “Both autoimmune disorders.”

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association reports that “it is a certainty that those on immunosuppressive medication and corticosteroids are more at risk for infections.”

Becker and her mother are being treated for their autoimmune disorders.

Becker and her family are living under different circumstances than many families in quarantine right now, as almost half of her family have underlying health issues that severely compromise their immune systems.

Like Becker, her mother, who is in her early 50s, are younger and aren’t the typical elderly population singled out as at-risk individuals.

“When I went to Trader Joe’s, they didn’t say anything about those like me who were at risk, only the elderly were allowed in early,” Becker explained. “I think that a lot of people just don’t understand how many people are living with chronic underlying conditions just day to day and what that’s like.”

Many health conditions can compromise individuals and make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Not all of the illnesses are uncommon: People with asthma, HIV and other relatively common conditions can pose a greater fatality risk for those infected. These, like Becker’s celiac disease and her mother’s multiple sclerosis aren’t illnesses that can always be visibly detected.

“I don’t think that appropriate accommodations have been made for those who aren’t visibly at risk,” Becker said. “Even when accommodations have ostensibly been made, their implementation isn’t always great.”

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