A look back on the lives lost and changed by COVID-19
Marlei Dismuke, a junior transfer student in the Frost School of Music, says she misses her late grandfather, John Carpenter, who died in November after contracting COVID-19. “He wasn’t very talkative, but he was very silly by nature,” Dismuke said. “Most things he said were a joke. He was such a kind soul.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Carpenter, 78, delivered food to the homeless in his hometown of Houston. While Dismuke thinks he may have contracted the virus there, she says the threat of the virus never would have stopped her grandfather from helping.
“My grandmother used to get so upset with him, but he wouldn’t stop regardless of who told him not to go out,” Dismuke said. “I never got the chance to see him again. And I had no idea this was going to happen, and being super far away in a completely different state was really hard to handle.”
Dismuke says her grandfather’s death made her more aware of COVID’s deadly effects. “Stay safe and don’t be reckless; think about others’ lives and how you’re affecting them,” Dismuke said.
Image: Junior Marlei Dismuke remembers her grandfather, John Carpenter. ‘He was such a kind soul.’ Photo credit: Marlei Dismuke
Sophomore history major Cristian Alvarez says that at the start of the pandemic, he was not aware of how quickly it could affect his loved ones.
“When my mom was rushed to the hospital and none of my family members could be in the room with her, that’s when I knew COVID-19 wasn’t just some cold to fight off,” Alvarez said.
His mother, Gina Alvarez, contracted the virus in early April, and her condition worsened within days of testing positive.
Cristian Alvarez said being separated from his mom was difficult, but after his mother was placed on a ventilator, his separation anxiety was quickly replaced with prayers of survival.
“Waking up and not knowing how my mom was doing and having to tell my younger siblings everything was going to be OK, when I wasn’t sure that was the case, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Cristian Alvarez said.
Gina Alvarez spent two days on a ventilator. When her doctors recommended that she take hydroxychloroquine, an experimental drug to treat severe COVID-19 patients, her family gave the nod of approval.
“It was scary knowing that my mom was one of the first people in the U.S. that was given this treatment, and nobody knew exactly how well it worked,” Cristian Alvarez said. “But when the doctors saw how quickly it was helping her, I was relieved instantly.”
Gina Alvarez made a complete recovery and was released from Baptist Hospital after four days.
“It was the longest four days of my life,” Cristian Alvarez said. “It really made me realize just how serious coronavirus was, because up until then, it was just another headline in the news.”
Image: Sophomore Cristian Alvarez and his mother, Gina Alvarez, who contracted COVID-19. Photo credit: Cristian Alvarez
Freshman graphic design major Ryler Gould worries most that his mother Sasha, a nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, will catch COVID-19 due to her direct contact with contagious patients.
“Knowing your mom has to treat these sick patients who have a killer virus with no cure, it made us all feel really proud of her, my dad and brother and I,” Gould said. “But you can’t help but feel scared, which I know I still feel being far from home.”
Sasha Gould provides patients at the hospital with food, water and other essential care.
“Seeing her having to work basically all day from 6 in the morning to like midnight definitely wasn’t easy,” said Gould, a member of UM’s track and field team.
After the one-year mark since the first reported case of COVID-19 in his city, Gould said that while case numbers are going down, his mother’s hours at the hospital are not.
“It’s crazy when you see all over the news that 500,000 have already died,” Gould said. “I remember even our parents telling us that it wouldn’t last this long, but she works the same hours as she did a year ago.”
Image: Freshman Ryler Gould’s mother works long hours helping COVID patients at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Photo credit: Ryler Gould
For freshman Nikolas Ferreyra, Valentine’s Day was a day of fear and worry.
Ferreyra’s father Walter, 55, was hospitalized in their hometown, Washington, D.C., for respiratory issues stemming from COVID-19. Ferreyra says his family had a lot of tough conversations about the potential outcome of his diagnosis due to his father’s age.
“It threw me off my studies,” said Ferreyra, an international studies major. “I was like, ‘What can I do?’ There’s so much going on that I have no control over.”
At the same time, both of his suitemates tested positive for COVID. Despite testing negative, Ferreyra was worried he may have contracted the virus and put others in danger.
“It was taxing both mentally and physically,” Ferreyra said. “I didn’t really want to do anything because I thought it’s almost as if this is the end of the world… Everything was just going bad.”
Ferreyra says his father fully recovered after just a week in the hospital and that his suitemates have also made full recoveries.
Image: Nikolas Ferreyra, right, worried about his father, Walter Ferreyra, who contracted COVID-19. He has fully recovered. Photo credit: Nikolas Ferreyra
Freshman sociology major Jolie Montlick says the virus has taken a toll on her academic career.
“Still recovering from the virus makes it super hard to concentrate on schoolwork and get it done effectively,” said Montlick, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 1.
“When I had COVID, I had stomach aches, headaches, body aches, fatigue, sore throat and lost my taste and smell,” Montlick said. “Two weeks after I recovered, I started experiencing a cough and body aches and then had a fast heart rate.”
Montlick, who quarantined at home in Vero Beach, Florida, says that even after being cleared by school to return to campus, she was hesitant to resume living in the dorms and attending in-person classes.
“I was worried I wasn’t getting better enough to come back yet, but I wanted to be able to live my college life and be on campus,” Montlick said.
It has been more than a month since Montlick contracted the virus, and while her symptoms have improved, she said she has yet to fully recover.
“I am still struggling and losing a lot of sleep due to my cough and chest pain,” Montlick said.
Image: Freshman Jolie Montlick says she still has COVID symptoms a month after contracting the virus. Photo credit: Jolie Montlick
Sophomore Jamie Kushnir says it took her three months to recover after contracting COVID-19 over the Labor Day weekend. She still occasionally experiences fatigue.
“It affected my social life, it affected my grades a lot, and it affected my mental health,” said Kushnir, a biochemistry and math major. “It was a really, really bad time for me.”
Kushnir, 19, said her initial symptoms were fatigue, a fever, headaches, body aches, congestion and stomach aches. Although her symptoms have diminished, Kushnir says she now always carries an inhaler with her. Kushnir says that before contracting COVID, she was a healthy person with strong lungs.
“Emotionally, I definitely felt very drained, very lonely,” Kushnir said.
Kushnir said she did not get the virus through partying or similar types of activity. It was simply bad luck, she said.
“I was kind of scared just because you see things in the news about people your age dying from the virus or getting hospitalized from the virus,” Kushnir said. “I definitely didn’t expect three months of lasting effects.”
Image: Sophomore Jamie Kushnir on lingering symptoms of COVID-19: ‘I definitely didn’t expect three months of lasting effects.’ Photo credit: Jamie Kushnir
Sophomore motion pictures major Shane Shakoor says he expected to spend his first weeks of spring semester filming productions, hanging out with friends and adjusting to his new role as a First Year Fellow. His plans were upended when he caught COVID-19.
“When I stood up, I couldn’t even take two steps before losing my breath,” Shakoor said. “I couldn’t even stand in the shower… the fatigue was so bad.”
Following his diagnosis in early January, Shakoor’s world was filled with constant and painful symptoms.
“I had really bad coughs and headaches, a lot of eye pain as if they were about to fall out of my sockets, lots of fatigue, and I definitely fully lost my taste and smell,” Shakoor said. “I had tried to eat the spaghetti the nurses had given me one day, and I couldn’t even taste it.”
Two months later, Shakoor said he still has not fully regained his taste.
“I would say I have about 65 percent of my taste back,” he said.
Shakoor says that his experience made him more hopeful that students would take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Even if it wasn’t a global pandemic, you should be washing your hands,” Shakoor said. “People really need to start taking this seriously because having the virus was not fun at all.”
Image: Sophomore Shane Shakoor says COVID-19 changed his semester for the worse. Photo credit: Shane Shakoor
In the face of the pandemic’s accelerated spread, some UM students have been motivated to use their time and resources to contribute to their communities. As the country and its populace recover from widespread tragedy, these students continue to devote their time and resources to supporting an overwhelmed medical community and nation suffering enormous loss.
Maddy Scott, a marine biology and ecology major from San Diego, says she volunteered to help assemble N-95 masks in the early stages of the pandemic to help those most in need.
“They were going to health workers working on the front lines through various hospitals in San Diego at a time when N-95 masks were really hard to come by,” Scott said. “It was nice knowing that something I was doing was actually having a positive impact in a place that needed it.”
Scott’s mother regularly volunteers and encouraged her to contribute after seeing on the news that more than 300,000 N-95 masks needed to be assembled.
“We essentially would just sit there for like four hours,” Scott said, adding that she enjoyed having something to do after her classes moved fully online in March 2020.
“It was a really nice way to have social interaction while still being safe and doing something productive,” she said. “I think my mom and I assembled around 2,000 masks during our time there.”
Image: Maddy Scott, right, assembles N-95 masks for healthcare workers with friend, Kendall Lincoln, in San Diego: ‘It was nice knowing that something I was doing was actually having a positive impact in a place that needed it.’ Photo credit: Maddy Scott
Bela Palicki, a health science major, contracted COVID-19 in July, but by December, she was helping fellow Illinois residents get tested.
“I wanted to do something to help out even if it was small,” said Palicki, who worked as an assistant at Augustus Labs, a COVID testing center in Lombard, Illinois.
Only registered nurses are licensed to administer COVID tests, so Palicki’s job was to gather information from patients getting tested.
“I was putting myself more at risk than anyone because I was running out to people’s cars to get paperwork and handled payments and all that,” said Palicki, a 19-year-old Chicago native. “I was touching credit cards and interacting with people in their vehicles that were giving themselves the test.”
Palicki said she felt obligated to find work in the medical field during the pandemic and was satisfied with the work she did to help.
“I had a guy who was trying to go back home to India but needed the negative test to get on his plane,” Palicki said. “There were a lot of people just trying to fly home; most of the people I remember were in such a hurry because it was a 24-hour turnaround to find out your result.
Image: Health science major Bela Palicki worked as a data entry helper in early December at Augustus Labs, a COVID testing center in Lombard, Illinois. Photo credit: Bela Palicki
Kayla Rivera, a nursing major from Indiana, says that she decided to take a gap year because she did not feel comfortable coming back to school during a pandemic.
“Over the summer when we got the first couple emails having to wear masks on campus and all of the new rules, it freaked me out a little bit,” Rivera said.
Rivera said she was not willing to pay the same tuition for an online education.
“I am spending a lot of money to go there and I wanted to be in person so that was my huge thing too,” Rivera said. “Since I am taking nursing classes I didn’t feel comfortable taking online nursing classes like I really need to be in person to learn.”
Her time off has led to incredible opportunities, including a job as a full-time nurse in Arizona.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said. “I have a nursing job now so I’m getting experience, I’ve gotten a great job opportunity and I’ve gotten to move across the country.”
Rivera plans to return to UM for the 2021 fall semester because she worries that more time off could result in a permanent break from higher education.
“It’s dangerous taking a year off,” Rivera said. “I see people take a year off and never come back because life has been so less stressful. I need to go back to school.”
Image: Nursing major Kayla Rivera took a gap year to work as a full-time school nurse. Photo credit: Kayla Rivera
Mia Clarke, a junior global health studies major, was forced to return halfway through her study abroad trip in Seville, Spain, after the spread of COVID-19 accelerated in the spring.
“I was in denial when I found out our program was canceled,” said Clarke, 20. “I cried to my host mom… I was in shock.”
She says she was planning to return to UM in fall 2020 but decided to take the semester off to save money.
“I took this time to explore different things, learn more about myself and my values, and get a bigger picture perspective on life,” said Clarke. “If things had been normal, I don’t know if I would be as appreciative of life as I am now.”
Clarke hoped to return to Spain and intern at a physical therapy office this summer but was informed that her internship has also been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m trying to be patient and look on the bright side,” Clarke said.
Image: Junior Mia Clarke lost half of her study abroad experience, a semester of college, and her summer internship due to COVID-19. Photo credit: Mia Clarke
Michelle Ng-Reyes’ video production job with UM Athletics came to an abrupt halt when the university went on lockdown during the spring 2020 semester.
Ng-Reyes’ job included working with ACC Network, but she was not given the opportunity to continue virtually during lockdown due to the league’s temporary shutdown.
“I wasn’t fired or laid off, but my boss told me I would return once things got back to normal,” Ng-Reyes said. “I had no idea when that would happen, so that was kind of weird to hear from your boss; that’s kinda scary.”
After countless letdowns and a complete loss of income, Ng-Reyes was hired by a nonprofit to put on a Zoom summer camp.
“Thankfully, I was able to use that money to make it through the summer,” she said.
Image: Michelle Ng-Reyes says she lost her campus job and had to scramble to find a summer internship because of the pandemic. Photo credit: Michelle Ng-Reyes