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How immunocompromised Nevadans are navigating COVID-19 over the long haul

Three blue surgical masks are fanned out on top of each other on a white surface.
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COVID-19 cases are substantially lower than at other points during the pandemic. But immunocompromised people, who make up nearly 3% of America’s population, are still navigating how to stay safe from the virus, while many others have largely returned to normal.

COVID-19 cases in Washoe County are currently much lower than they were during the omicron surge in January, but some immunocompromised people feel left behind. That’s because they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a weaker immune system, which can be caused by a number of conditions.

Jeffrey Hutsler, who has chronic kidney disease, said that early in the pandemic, he stayed home and only surrounded himself with his wife and child. Hustler is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and said that he doesn’t always feel safe in his classroom.

“You sort of feel like you’re behind the curve, in terms of people returning to normal,” Hutsler said. “A lot of people have just sort of rushed to return to normal, started going out, saying they’re doing all these things, taking trips, going on airplanes, which I haven’t done since right before the pandemic started. [That] was the last time I did any air travel.”

Hutsler said he wishes others were more understanding of what people like him go through as he still doesn’t feel comfortable in crowded environments.

“I think people in my position are a little bit forgotten now, because everybody’s sort of focused on this ‘bright new morning’ with no more COVID, which we’re not anywhere near yet,” he added. “Some of us just aren’t that comfortable with that yet.”

Nancy Daio is the division director of Epidemiology and Health Preparedness at the Washoe County Health District. She explained how immunocompromised people are more likely to become severely sick from COVID-19.

“You’re not coming up with a high enough immunity, or creating long-term antibodies that can protect you, so you’re more likely to get sick, and you’re more likely to get sick for longer if you are attacked by a virus,” Daio said.

Maddie Rose is a reporter for KUNR Youth Media and a rising senior at Damonte Ranch High School. KUNR Youth Media is a special partnership with the Washoe County School District and Report for America to train the next generation of journalists.

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