High Risk Individuals
March 31, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the world and Iowa City is no exception. Learning was temporarily suspended and then went fully virtual. Each person was faced with a slightly different challenge.
Reagan Yamashita ’22 is one student who has seen the more extreme side of the pandemic. Her mother works in a long-term care facility with positive COVID patients. Due to this, she was one of the first students to take action.
“When it first started my mom was the only person that was allowed to go and get groceries,” said Yamashita. “She would put them in the garage, and then wiped down every single grocery with a disinfectant wipe before she’d bring it into the house.”
Her mother would then change her clothes before entering the house, where she would immediately shower and wash her clothes. Part of this caution was due to her job, and another part was due to an immunocompromised member of the family, Aiden Yamashita.
“My brother has something called TBD, it’s a telomere biology disorder. And essentially what it does is it causes issues with everything else,” said Yamashita. “so my brother has a lot of things he has bone marrow failure. He has liver disease, he has hepatic pulmonary syndrome.”
TBD stands for telomere biology disorder. It is when the telomeres on the end of the chromosome are shorter than normal. This causes a myriad of other issues, the most common being bone marrow failure and lung disease. Since Aiden has hepatic pulmonary syndrome, a liver disease that affects the lungs and ability to carry oxygen, illnesses that attack the respiratory system like COVID are extremely dangerous.
The combined risk of her mother working in a care facility and her brother being extremely high risk caused Yamashita to elect for online classes in the 2020-21 school year. Her online journey began in March 2020 when the district went virtual. When given the option to continue learning or opt to pass, she had to think through her decision.
“I definitely took a pass on math,” said Yamashita. “I think for half of my classes I continued and the other half I just passed because it was rough. There were transitions everywhere and I was stuck in my house.”
When enrolling for the next year, she immediately chose to continue online.
“There was no way I could go to school. When we first went into lockdown my brother lived with us, which was the big problem,” Yamashita said.
Her brother Aiden had moved out for a short period of time and plans to have a liver transplant within the next few months. After the surgery, he will need to move back in to recover.
“[Being online] also left flexibility with his doctor’s appointments and stuff like that,” Yamashita said. “So it wasn’t even a choice, it was just like ‘I’m doing this.’”
Yamashita has remained isolated and stayed home, aside from visiting family and working for her family’s construction company. “I haven’t seen anybody from school in a year. […] The only time I have that flexibility is when I go up and visit my cousins,” Yamashita said.
Like many people stuck at home, Yamashita has had some time to reflect on her mental and the impact this isolation has had on her.
“There were definitely times when it just really sucked because everybody would be home and you couldn’t get out,” Yamashita said. “I couldn’t go to the mall, I couldn’t do anything even if I was by myself, even after Aiden moved out, we couldn’t risk it because my mom had a few COVID scares before she got the vaccination because she was working with positive patients.”
There were definitely times when it just really sucked because everybody would be home and you couldn’t get out.”
— Reagan Yamashita '22
Yamashita has coped with these struggles by communicating with her therapist and providing for a pregnant cat her family took in, and later her kittens. She has also grown closer to her family.
“Family has always been important, but now it’s like there is nothing outside of it,” Yamashita said. “Like whenever there is drama, I’m not like ‘oh my god I need to call Raina,’ it’s like ‘wow I need to go tell my mom’.”
Family has always been important, but now it’s like there is nothing outside of it.”
— Reagan Yamashita '22
Many students found themselves missing out on lost opportunities, or attending virtual events that just aren’t quite the same. Yamashita found herself in the same boat with BPA competitions.
“I am in BPA. Basically, you compete in different events. My event was prepared speech. Somehow I qualified for nationals. State was online, regionals was online, and nationals was online. I qualified for nations in two events. My brother qualified when he was a senior and went to Anaheim, California for a week and did all this cool stuff. I qualified for nationals and I’m just doing them from my living room,” Yamashita said. “I had a dress shirt on and my pajama pants on, trying not to be caught while I was eating a salad. They were like ‘Reagan, first place!’ and I was like ‘cool, can I turn my camera off now?’”
Yamashita is hopeful to be back in person for her senior year and has a few things on her bucket list.
“[I’d like to] graduate, that’s on the top of my list,” Yamashita said. “I definitely have to go to a dance. I am going to be made fun of if I never go to a high school dance. If I don’t go to a single dance, I will never live that down.”