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What it's like to live as a high-risk individual during COVID-19

Kaidence Stephenson is 13 years old. She received her first heart transplant in her first year of life. Her second heart transplant came just five years later. Despite her young age, Kaidence Stephenson has been officially considered a high-risk individual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[My daughter] absolutely understands the seriousness of what is going on and becomes incredibly frustrated as she watches others who try to downgrade the situation or not follow the social distancing rules,” said Shauntelle Stephenson, Kaidence’s mother. “She has spent her whole life wearing a mask when needed, so it’s hard to listen to adults sit and complain about it.”

High-risk individuals include those who are 65 years and older, who have underlying medical conditions or who are immunocompromised. For them, life has been nearly the same since the beginning of the outbreak in late January.

Part of the regiment for post-transplant includes limiting large-group interaction to decrease the risk of infection. Therefore, the feeling of quarantine may not be so foreign to those who have received organ transplants.

With the state of Utah reopening, high-risk individuals are growing increasingly concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones.

This worry had been the biggest struggle since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, said Laura Hofheins, a high-risk individual. Her day-to-day activities did not change much due to her homebody personality.

The yellow guidelines for Utah include allowing groups of up to 50, allowing sports competitions to continue, reopening of K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year, and opening all businesses, including restaurants. The yellow phase continues to recommend keeping a safe social distance and wearing a proper face covering in high-risk areas.

Living with high-risk individuals

Shauntelle Stephenson is just one example of a resident going through this pandemic with an immunocompromised child. Her daughter’s first heart failure was caused by a virus that attacked her heart.

“When you watch your child, twice, fight for their life day after day, intubated, in a coma while waiting for a heart transplant because a virus attacked your child’s perfectly healthy heat and destroyed it, watching others around you take this situation so lightly is incredibly frustrating,” Stephenson said.

Having a high-risk individual at home has impacted other members of Stephenson’s family as well.

“To this very day, my children have not played with a friend, been to a store, or really even been to the doctor. Even my daughter’s heart transplant cardiology appointments and heart [catherization] have been canceled, and that says a lot,” Stephenson said.

Seeing the flux social effects of the novel coronavirus brings an array of mental problems. Symptoms can include feelings of isolation and depression.

Stephenson said these additional issues are especially pertinent when it comes to missing school; her daughter has already experienced this because of her medical condition.

The move to yellow

High-risk individuals are to continue following the red, or “high-risk” recommendations even as Utah transitions to yellow. These include limiting social groups to 20 or less, wearing face covers in social settings, and continuing to work from home.

Stephenson said: “Having the state moving to the yellow is hard. I was [honestly] shocked that it came so quickly after moving to orange. My worry with this and from what I have already seen is that people have somewhat jumped from orange to green, almost like they don’t need that yellow as a caution.”

Some counties with higher infection rates will continue to stay in the orange phase. The counties staying in orange include Grand County, Summit County, Wasatch County, Salt Lake City, and West Valley City.

On May 19, the state faced its deadliest day with eight fatalities. On May 20, there were 192 new cases, which was the highest count since April 2.

Terri Draper, Daron Cowley, Lance Madigan from Intermountain Healthcare and Kathy Wilets from the University of Utah did not respond to request for a comment.

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Featured image courtesy of Samantha Hurley.

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