I saw a map on a website called COVID Exit Strategy, run by volunteer health experts, that color-codes each state in our country. Red is “uncontrolled spread” of the coronavirus. Orange is “trending poorly.” Yellow is “caution warranted.” And green is “trending better.” Most of the country is in the red. And as of this writing, precisely two states are in green: Maine and Vermont (which is basically Maine with more mountains).

I am very proud of the work we have all done: wearing masks, canceling gatherings, being socially distant, getting tested even though being professionally swabbed in any orifice is uncomfortable. But we must remain vigilant – especially young people.

Being cooped up in the house all the time sucks, it really does. I miss Tinder more than I ever thought I would. I miss being able to do movie nights with my friends. Mostly, I miss living without constant fear. But I take this virus very seriously. Recently, the general mind-set around COVID-19 seems to have settled onto “you either die or get better,” and young people are at much lower risk of dying. This is not true. COVID-19 is a relatively new disease on the world stage; we simply do not have that much research on its long-term progression and side effects yet. But more evidence is emerging that COVID-19 has long-haul effects; that you can get sick and not return to your full functioning capacity for a long time.

My friend Anna and her family caught COVID-19 in March. Those early days of the pandemic were cold, dark, confusing and isolating – there wasn’t enough information, there weren’t enough tests, I was hoarding canned beans like a gold prospector living in a mine. They still don’t know how they caught it. Anna was 26, healthy and had no pre-existing conditions, with the exception of some hip troubles from a car accident years ago. She exercised regularly and had a good diet (her mom is a bit of a health-food nut, which I never appreciated in high school but definitely do as an adult.) She was symptomatic for over one month and at one point, got so dehydrated that she nearly had to go to the hospital for fluids. After COVID-19, she had to see a cardiologist and have a heart monitor strapped to her chest for five weeks. They found out she now has tachycardia over 60 percent of the time, which means her heart beats over 100 times per minute, which definitely isn’t supposed to happen 60 percent of the time. She’s also had issues with her joints swelling and she’s developed allergies that she never had before.

We all need to continue taking the coronavirus seriously, but we don’t exactly need to live in fear. The way I’ve been thinking about it is: Are you afraid of driving your car? Probably not. But most drivers recognize that driving is an inherently dangerous activity – you are operating a multi-ton hunk of metal that can move at extremely high speeds, with a fair amount of turning capacity. So what do you do? You take precautions: You wear a seat belt, roughly obey speed limits, use a turn signal. (And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be driving.) Your car comes with airbags and crumple zones. And because the overwhelming majority of drivers take these small safety precautions, driving becomes reasonably safe. But all it takes is one driver not taking the right precautions to end in disaster and tragedy; all it takes is one maskless person to spread coronavirus. The coronavirus won’t be with us for as long as cars will, but it will be with us for a long while yet. So we have to learn to live with the danger and become accustomed to taking small daily precautions. (Personally, I like wearing masks. They keep my face warm and hide my double chin.)

I asked Anna what she would want my readers to know about her experience with COVID-19, and she said: “Don’t mess with COVID. Wear your mask, wash your hands. Before I got sick I was the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life and now I need to take a nap after I shower. If you get sick, sure, there’s a chance you’ll get over it and it will be like nothing ever happened. But there’s also a chance you’ll end up like me, and take it from me, you don’t want to end up like this. I legit prayed for death.”

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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