Every single one of our actions affects someone else. No matter how miniscule or drastic, that is the universal law of cause and effect. When there is a global pandemic, the consequences of our actions become unequivocally higher.
Now, with many students returning to Isla Vista after months spent at home with their families, our college town is filled with young adults suddenly faced with a lot more responsibility than they bargained for. And while the severity of COVID-19 will not disappear, the risks can feel less personal and less evident in a town full of twenty-something year olds.
In the process of adjusting to these changes, it is essential to continue realizing that just because the risks may not seem as dramatic anymore does not mean they are not critically affecting the people around you.
To get a closer look at what it looks like for someone to contract COVID-19 in Isla Vista, I interviewed four UCSB students who tested positive for COVID-19 here in IV. For privacy reasons, these students will remain anonymous.
The first of the four students I spoke with told me they contracted COVID-19 after their boyfriend went to a gathering of about 10 people. There was one person who unknowingly brought the virus with them from Los Angeles and ended up spreading it to everyone at the gathering, except for the one person who wore a mask. 30 people in total contracted the disease from this one source before the person who originated the spread even knew they had it.
This student described their immune system as healthy and strong yet still experienced excruciating symptoms. These included the worst migraines they’ve had in their life, pain in their eyes and the inability to concentrate and study. In reflection, they emphasized that just because you have a decent immune system does not make you immune and insisted that “this thing will wipe you out no matter how healthy you are.”
Another student shared with me that, after hanging out with some people who came up from out of town while being infected COVID-19, they contracted the virus, along with their three housemates and four other friends. Prior to being infected, this student said they tried to avoid COVID-19 by only hanging out with people outside. Apparently, being outside was not enough to prevent the inevitable.
Even while outside and while making a conscious effort not sharing drinks, the virus still ultimately spread through sharing items like ping pong balls and beer die. Reportedly, the entire group was asymptomatic, minus the effects of loss of smell and taste. This student said that the worst part was having to spend so much money DoorDashing all their meals and not being able to leave the house.
What these interviews show us is that even if we are extra cautious, wear masks and socially distance, contracting COVID-19 is still a very real possibility.
After the third student I spoke to offered to take a friend to the pharmacy, windows down but unmasked, their friend tested positive for COVID-19. Soon after, the third student shared that they also tested positive, saying that “getting it from an asymptomatic carrier and now being an asymptomatic carrier has really opened my eyes to the severity of this disease.”
UCSB provided this student with isolation housing, but they shared that it was hard to sustain themself with no kitchen or microwave and therefore had to spend a lot of money ordering food in. A large concern they expressed was the long-term effects of COVID-19, including changes in heart composition and other parts of the body, long after fighting off COVID-19.
They highlighted the importance of “not hiding your COVID-19 results or symptoms from anyone, especially your housemates.” Instead, “contracting COVID-19 doesn’t make you dirty, unsafe, or a bad person. Novel coronavirus is highly infectious, and it wouldn’t be called a pandemic if it wasn’t.”
The last student I talked with shared that before going home to see their parents, they tested negative for COVID-19. However, shortly after arriving home, they started to feel congested and lethargic. They got tested again and this time they were positive. Even though they kept a limited social circle and wore a mask everywhere, they still contracted coronavirus, which didn’t show up in their system until after they had come home and had given it to both of their parents.
While the student suffered from overall mild symptoms, their parents developed ones much more severe, including chest pain and high fevers. On top of the physical symptoms, they added that their mental health was negatively impacted by “just knowing that [they] gave it to the most important people in [their] life.”
They shared that, for those who aren’t taking this virus seriously, “yes, this might not be a deadly virus for our age group, but think of the parents and grandparents that you’re hurting by continuing to spread this virus in I.V. to people who want to visit their loved ones back home.”
While the risks might not be as severe for the majority of younger people, they are still driving the spread more than any other age group, according to the World Health Organization. Rather than making uninformed assumptions and thoughtless actions, it is essential to listen to health experts, scientists, and the personal accounts of those who have contracted the virus in order to understand how to react and move forward during this time.
What these interviews show us is that even if we are extra cautious, wear masks and socially distance, contracting COVID-19 is still a very real possibility. It only takes being in contact with one other person to contract the virus, and when people are gathering in large groups without wearing masks, this likelihood increases exponentially.
As abysmal as this sounds, there are still very simple ways in which we can respond to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Isla Vista. We can either choose to be deliberate in our daily actions and make small changes from our normal lifestyle, or we can ignore the risks around us, leaving us infected and frustrated with each other.
This does not mean we need to stay locked in our house, socially deprived until the virus miraculously disappears. Aside from this inducing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and social isolation, it is not practical in the long run. Instead of flipping to either side of the spectrum, both unproductive and destructive ways to cope with an infectious disease, we must accept that living in the age of a pandemic necessitates adaptation.
Most importantly, we must reduce our contact when we can, continue to wear masks and socially distance, and try to keep contact limited to our housemates. And for the times when you want to see friends outside of your house, be thoughtful about who you’ll be in close proximity with and what you’ll be doing. Choose to hang out with friends who have also been taking social distancing measures or go on a walk instead of eating at a restaurant. It is the small steps, the picking and choosing, and the mindfulness of our actions that will ultimately lessen the spread of COVID-19.
I know we are young, socially hungry and supposed to be in this gray area of life where consequences are more of a learning experience rather than a repercussion. But when one mindless decision could put somebody else into a life-threatening condition, we need to re-think and re-adjust to how we live our daily lives.
And for those who are either apathetic or with the mindset of invincibility and are still going to party no matter what anybody tells them, at least change something! Don’t share drinks, vape devices or joints — and wear a mask. Make it a norm. Get a cute mask and rock that shit until other people start doing it too.
This disease feeds on the most vulnerable of our society. It might not feel like your individual actions will significantly impact those around you, but rash actions will disproportionately affect those already at risk in our community. Right now, it is crucial to use compassion and take pragmatic measures so that we can slow the spread together and unite for the common good of our local and global communities.
Carley Weiler hopes these accounts shed some light on how close to home this virus is to the SB community and wants to thank those who so kindly shared their stories with her.