COVID-19 Through the Eyes of a High-Risk Student

During finals week of the Fall 2019 semester, Southern Utah University junior Bethany Hammer noticed a pain in her side. She struggled breathing the cold December air.

The English student went to her doctor and received a diagnosis: spontaneous pneumothorax, more commonly known as a collapsed lung. Hammer took nearly a month to recover and said she still feels “aches and twinges” in her right side months after recovering.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced SUU to move all of its courses online in March, Hammer immediately took precautionary measures. The fear of how the respiratory disease could affect her kept her locked inside her home.

“Before the pandemic I was working at Walmart, which is a very public place and going to classes face to face. Now I’m basically in my house all the time,” Hammer said. “I won’t even go inside a grocery store. I don’t really want to be near anyone outside of my family, except for a couple friends.”

When SUU announced in-person classes would resume for the 2020 fall semester, she said she “didn’t want to go back this semester if going to class virtually wasn’t an option.”

Although SUU has only seen 26 new COVID-19 cases with the second week of the semester wrapping up, SUU administration has said it is inevitable that more cases will surface on campus.

For students like Hammer, COVID-19 means more than just a number of confirmed cases. She has no idea how the disease would impact her body, but is hoping she never has to find out. 

“It was really scary, but it really made me think about my health and how important it is,” Hammer said. “Then COVID-19 became a thing, a respiratory disease, and I really didn’t want to get it. Struggling to breathe [after the operation] was the worst thing and I didn’t want that again.”

COVID-19 has not only affected Hammer’s daily life and limits where she goes and the activities she participates in, but it was also the deciding factor in the decision to study remotely for the Fall 2020 semester.

“My health means so much to me and I don’t want to risk it at all,”  Hammer said. 

SUU has installed cameras in all classrooms to allow those who feel uncomfortable about attending in person to continue their education online. Hammer was encouraged by this option, and decided to participate in her lectures via Zoom.

During the shift from in-person to online classes, Hammer has found that she actually prefers remote instruction. It not only allows her to continue her education during the pandemic, but she believes it will generally keep her safer.

Although she is taking cautious measures to avoid coming in contact with coronavirus, she is concerned about how other students are acting in regards to the virus. 

“Some people think it’s not a big deal, while others take it seriously. I, on the other hand, plan on quarantining from everybody because that’s how I’m able to stay safe,” Hammer said. 

Throughout the country, over 1,600 colleges and universities have reported at least 88,000 cases since the pandemic started, according to the New York Times

“The virus can affect people in so many different ways, but struggling to breathe and potentially ending up in the hospital, without having your family or friends to be there for you is not worth it. Please consider your health and others when you go out,” Hammer said. 

Visit SUU’s Keeping Campus Healthy page for more information on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

For an update on the amount of cases within Utah, visit 


Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos courtesy of: Bethany Hammer