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Four years ago, I was in the hospital going through chemotherapy to treat my leukemia. At the time, I had 0.0 neutrophils — the white blood cells that protect you against foreign pathogens; a healthy range is considered 2.5-7.5 neutrophils. I spent two and a half years undergoing chemotherapy, which killed all rapidly reproducing cells, like hair and blood cells, along with the leukemia. Thus, for two and a half years, I had chronically low white blood cell counts. If I had gotten even a whiff of the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, then, I would have almost certainly been dead within a matter of days.
I am lucky that I am no longer in treatment and that I do not have such an extreme white blood cell deficiency anymore. However, there are thousands of children and adults currently undergoing chemotherapy to fight for their lives, just as I was those four years ago. They, like people over 65 years old, are in danger during this pandemic.
As I walk around campus during the days leading up to spring break, I hear many people in my classes talk about their travel plans. They are going to Paris, to Seattle, to Spain … to myriad places that are critically affected by this virus. When prompted to rethink their plans, they often respond, “I’ll be fine”; “I would survive the coronavirus;” “It has a 97 percent survival rate — I’m taking my chances” or “I paid! Why would I cancel my trip now?”
All of these things are true. If you are a healthy, young individual, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor. You can tour Europe at all time low prices and come away from it with nothing but a mild cough. But the problem is that you might carry the coronavirus to someone who won’t survive it as you likely will. Your actions will have consequences for the people you come into contact with, but also for those you don’t; exposing the caretakers of people undergoing chemotherapy, relatives of vulnerable grandparents, and mothers of toddlers risks the lives of people many degrees of separation away from you.
You’re right. You deserve to travel to a place you paid good money to go to. And it’s unfair that these invisible pathogens are uprooting your entire life when they probably wouldn’t even cause you harm. However, whether you like it or not, you are a part of society. Consider the ramifications your leisure activities could have on the lives of those who coexist in this community with you. Your trip to the Eiffel Tower could cause the lives of people who, without any fault of their own, have precarious health conditions.
For a disease like this, a 3 percent mortality rate for the general population may not seem bad at all, but in reality, it’s a death sentence to the millions who are categorized as “high risk” populations. And these people are not “the others” — they are your professors, your classmates, and your grandparents.
As we leave Cambridge prematurely this semester, we would do well to remember that we all have the right to live our lives. That means visiting different places, learning about new cultures and pursuing happiness. But at the same time, in the most literal sense, a right to live also means a right to continue breathing. As privileged members of the world, we must be cognizant of our role in protecting this right and ensuring opportunities for those more vulnerable than us. And when it comes to this virus, the most vulnerable are the elderly, the immunocompromised and those who are left stranded once college housing closes on Sunday. In the face of a global health crisis like the novel coronavirus, we must remember that looking out for the vulnerable doesn’t stop even when we’re inconvenienced or scared.
Raquel Coronell Uribe ’22 is a Government concentrator in Dunster House.
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