COVID-19 and immunocompromised

The spread of coronavirus has made it very difficult for students who are immunocompromised to move out of campus housing. 

Gonzaga’s closure makes the threat level of coronavirus (COVID-19) real for the entire community. For many, the virus causes the inconvenience of bar and restaurant closures and the cancellation of noteworthy future events. But for others, the stakes are much higher.

The outbreak of coronavirus impacts those who are immunocompromised differently. They have to be more careful where they go, what they touch and who they interact with.

Last Wednesday, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh announced that the university will officially close its dormitories effective March 27, but students can make plans and arrangements to be completely moved out no later than April 13. This forces those who are immunocompromised and those with sheltered immune systems to leave their dorms and return to their permanent addresses, potentially exposing them to the virus. Others who left Spokane for spring break now have to risk traveling back to Spokane to retrieve their belongings from the dorms.

Those who are immunocompromised are not more likely to contract the virus, but they risk getting much sicker than a person with a stronger immune system.  

“According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 for those with immunosuppression is unknown. However, as with other viral respiratory infections, someone with immunosuppression may be at risk of becoming very sick,”  said Dr. Kristiana Holmes, the director of Health and Counseling Services.

Due to the uncertainty of the virus’ impact, immunocompromised individuals have to be extremely diligent of their amount of exposure to the outside world. They must take special precautions to ensure they remain healthy.

Celeste Burke-Conte, a sophomore at GU, is experiencing this struggle first hand and she is doing her best to guarantee her safety. After traveling to Mexico for spring break and then returning to her permanent address in the Seattle area, where she is currently, Burke-Conte is now working to practice social distancing.

When she was in Spokane, Burke-Conte was living on campus and therefore has to move out of her dorm no later than April 13. By that point, coronavirus could be more prevalent in the Spokane area.

She still has yet to figure out how to return to Spokane and move out of her on-campus housing safely. If she does not come to Spokane she is risking interacting with whoever helps her move out, therefore risking exposure to the virus.

“I have no idea what to do," Burke-Conte said. "We are going to wait and see how it goes."

Burke-Conte said that the continuous spread of coronavirus scares her and that she is scared to fly. Since her trip to Mexico, she has only left her house once to take a walk around the block. Her family has also remained quarantined to reduce the risk of bringing the virus into their home.

Burke-Conte recently broke her arm and her healthcare practitioner wanted her to come in to the hospital for an MRI. But due to her immunosuppression, they did not want her to return to the hospital.

“They told me, ‘we don’t want you coming back here for a while’,” Burke-Conte said.

Fortunately, some grocery stores in the Seattle area open up an hour early only for those who are more vulnerable to the virus. Her mother uses this to her advantage and only shops in that hour.

Though the dorm closures made her life more difficult, Burke-Conte is glad that the university did it. She said that if the dorms remained open, students would be encouraged to stay and risk passing on the virus.

Burke-Conte said that she gets frustrated when she sees peers using the closure of the university to party and continue to congregate. Some of her peers do not understand the impact that coronavirus can have on others or the potential danger of the virus for those who are vulnerable.

GU’s Health and Counseling Services recommends that those who are immunocompromised do not leave their home and to practice all of the regular safety habits that everyone should be adhering to. This includes washing hands regularly, avoid touching face and mouth and clean high-touch surfaces.

Health and Counseling Services also recommends to those who are more vulnerable should maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating right, getting at least eight hours of sleep, reducing stress and finding ways to interact with others through virtual means. They recommend that all who are currently living on-campus should return to their permanent residence as soon as possible.

Health and Counseling Services welcomes any member of the community to contact them with questions or concerns about GU’s health recommendations relating to the coronavirus outbreak. Call 509-313-4067 or email with any inquires.


Patrick Jones is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickjones714.

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