My 18-year-old brother tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-June. Eager to begin his freshman year at the University of Georgia, my brother traveled to Athens for a weekend visit over the summer and returned to our home in Fort Worth, Texas, with a dry cough and high fever. He was infected amid the surge of cases among younger people, and while we are less likely to face hospitalization and death, we are not invincible.
In the state of Georgia, the leading age group for confirmed COVID-19 cases is the 18-29 year old age group. As of Aug. 24, people within this age demographic makeup for 60,868 cases in Georgia according to the Department of Public Health.
Ever since the initial outbreaks in early March, I had been living under the same roof as my parents and younger brother. Over the past five months, my family tried to replace the feelings of anxiety and fear with positivity and excitement surrounding my brother’s decision to attend UGA with his older sister. As he embarks on his first year as a Georgia Bulldog, I am on my last. When universities across the country began announcing their reopening plans, we crossed our fingers for in-person instruction, a football season and an open town we hoped to call home.
However, we were selfish, turning a blind eye to the pandemic’s impact on humanity for a normal college experience. After only two days in Athens, my brother became ill, and as the virus spread to our home, reality seeped in with it.
Over the course of about two weeks, my brother was quarantined to his room with body aches and shortness of breath. We wore N95 masks around the house and the smell of bleach lingered throughout every room. While my brother worried about infecting my parents and me, we worried about his underlying conditions.
He has severe asthma, a disease that affects the lungs and causes episodes of breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with “moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.” He was not hospitalized, but he battled the symptoms and the fear that he may have to be.
I know many younger people who tested positive for COVID-19 and were asymptomatic. Most were glad they had it, convinced they would then be immune to the virus after recovery. The World Health Organization stated that “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”
Seeing my brother sick sparked concern for our return to UGA, and that wishful thinking was replaced with the reality that this upcoming year would not and should not proceed as a normal college experience.
During the summer months, the coronavirus had already made its way to college campuses. According to a New York Times survey of every public four-year college in the country, more than 6,600 coronavirus cases were linked to colleges in the United States, and the academic year has not even begun for most schools. UGA had the third-highest number of reported cases at 390, as of July 28. These numbers are only expected to rise as students begin to flood the UGA community. As of press time, the university has reported 504 cases.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill switched to remote instruction on Aug. 19 and reduced residential capacity after only one week of reopening with at least 177 students testing positive. While the UGA faculty and staff have worked hard to promote safety and well-being with their reopening plan, avoiding an outbreak seems almost impossible.