By Mili Chizhik, News Editor
Three hundred days. I spent three hundred days in quarantine starting in the beginning of March 2020 to the beginning of January 2021. While I wasn’t so worried about getting COVID-19 and the consequences for myself, I was terrified of getting my parents sick. I am overall a healthy person, despite my everlasting desire to eat pizza and french fries while going to sleep at 4 AM to binge watch everything on Netflix; however, my parents are not at their peak of health in their lives, therefore, getting COVID-19 was a life-threatening fear that loomed over us for over a year.
In January 2021, I moved into an apartment off-campus because the YU administration refused to offer one of my lab courses virtually and I couldn’t risk travelling to school and being in close contact with other students while living with my parents. In mid-March, my parents and I finally were able to take a deep breath after receiving our two-dose vaccinations. However, despite our vaccinated status, we still kept the precautions laid out by the CDC and our healthcare providers because we knew it wasn’t worth the risk.
After many family gatherings, a summer spent in Israel, and moving to a new apartment, I let my guard down once and attended an event without a mask. I figured most people there were vaccinated and my antibodies were still high from when I got my serological results to get out of quarantine in Israel. Little did I know, I picked up the virus and exposed over one hundred people and infected at least three other people before I even realized it was COVID-19.
When my positive test result came back, I was shocked and devastated. I followed all the rules for over a year and a half: I always wore my mask in public and minimized my interactions with people who were not vaccinated. I got tested and received the negative result to send to school after I was already unknowingly exposed, the day before I was symptomatic. The worst part was that I exposed many, many of my friends and professors (due to the lack of a mask requirement), as well as both of my parents.
While my mind spiraled into an anxiety attack, the one thought that gave me hope was that I wore a mask the whole day I was in school and in public. I felt like I had a bad cold —which is a semi-annual occurrence due to lack of sleep, stress, and bad eating habits— and thought it would be best to wear a mask regardless so that others wouldn’t get my cold.
After contacting the school to let them know I tested positive, they thanked me for updating them and that since most of the school is vaccinated, they weren’t worried about others getting sick. My response to their nonchalance was that they must have forgotten that I was vaccinated, cleared to come to campus with my premature negative test result, and was not required to wear a mask, all while having COVID-19. Furthermore, after my inquiry of how I will be able to make up my coursework since I will be unable to attend classes, they did not offer a remote option. As told to me by a professor, the administration has instructed all professors to decline requests for Zoom classes so students cannot use the virtual meetings to skip classes. While these intentions may make sense, there is no end in sight for the pandemic, so what are the contingency plans if a YU student gets sick and needs to self isolate?
I went into isolation in my room until ten days passed from the time my symptoms started, however at that point, my roommate and mother were already beginning to show symptoms. While dealing with the guilt of getting others sick and my own symptoms, I had to contact my professors myself to ask for remote options, most of whom agreed and set up zoom meetings for me. Between my studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), my classes, and my consistent symptoms, I was exhausted and frustrated to say the least.
Many people reached out to me with kind words and offered to help, but the only thing I could say aside from thanking them was to encourage them to be careful and continue wearing their masks, regardless of their vaccination status and age. A common myth that many still believe is that young people don’t get as sick, so they don’t have to worry as much; heck, even I believed this…until I actually started to have symptoms. I was a poster child of COVID-19: over a week of headaches, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue, coughing, fever, brain fog, dizziness, loss of smell and taste, shortness of breath, and I can go on and on. My mother and I eventually went to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment at our local hospital to prevent our symptoms from getting worse. Thank God, my mother, roommates, and I are all feeling much better now; but every once in a while, a symptom shows up for a day or two, reminding and encouraging us to be mindful of what happened and what we must keep doing.
With this in mind, imagine our dismay when an article written by two students claims that the student body’s autonomy is impeded by the mask requirement, how the temporary mask mandate was unreasonable and unfair to students, and how the faculty vote was put to blame for the mask mandate. Perhaps these writers and the 132 students (who were picked from a limited pool of male students) who “vehemently opposed” wearing masks should think of the situation this way: the more cases we have on campus, the less freedom we have; the risk of spreading COVID-19 is directly proportional to the lack of mask wearing and the less careful one is, the more selfish they are.
What is unfair is the assumption that the lack of freedom that comes with wearing a mask or being vaccinated is greater than the freedom and right to remain healthy. Those who oppose wearing masks and getting vaccinations are putting their peers, faculty members, families, friends and society at large at risk for the selfish belief that it violates their autonomy and religious values.
We have the scriptural and talmudic obligation to look out for our own health [“וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם מְאֹ֖ד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם”] and love our fellows like we would ourselves [“וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ”], so knowingly putting our peers in danger is not only purely immoral, but against our religion.
Let us hope that after reciting the selichot [prayers for forgiveness] for almost two weeks, that the words “we have acted wantonly” [“פָּשַֽׁעְנוּ”] and “we have been obstinate” [“קִשִּֽׁינוּ עֹֽרֶף”] —along with countless other liturgical verses in daily and high holiday prayers— have been said with true intention, understanding, and respect for the health of our brethren.