I'm 20 years old, and if I get COVID-19 there's a strong chance I will die

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My life depends not only on me taking this virus seriously, but on young and healthy people across America taking it seriously as well.

You wouldn't think it looking at me. From the outside, I look able-bodied, often walking between classes as a third-year on my college campus. But on the inside, the lower left lobe of my lung is always partially collapsed as a result of restrictive lung disease.

For most of my life, I've lived with multiple rare health conditions, including a neurovascular disease, which, until two years ago, was expected to kill me by the age of 30. Being on a repurposed chemotherapeutic agent typically used to treat leukemia has saved my life, but also makes me immunocompromised.

Altogether, I am a definite target to be caught and killed by COVID-19. The more it spreads through others, even by asymptomatic people, the more at-risk I am. I am young and very sick. My life depends not only on me taking this virus seriously but on young and healthy people across America taking it seriously as well.

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Watching the Trump administration's response to COVID-19 has felt like whiplash. An unprecedented global pandemic calls for a leader to communicate early, accurately, and credibly with a unified message. Seeing what countries like China and Italy went through, we had the time to prepare, and that would have saved lives.

Instead, the Trump administration belittled the virus's significance and contradicted science and public health experts.

For every week since January that the administration did not act, immunocompromised people like me and our elderly population have suffered. Over 1,100 people in the United States are dead. The Centers for Disease Control and public health officials know that the number will still rise significantly.

A couple of weeks ago, when other countries suffered a rapid rise in critical cases and deaths and a shortage of hospital beds and supplies, Donald Trump remarked that COVID-19 was less fatal than the flu, and stated on TV that "it's very mild" and "it will go away like a miracle." Scientists and experts had warned of the exact opposite, and the hardship in other countries warned us of a dire future ahead.

Despite this, Trump continued to host events and meetings throughout the United States, shaking hands with hundreds of Americans and world leaders less than a foot away from him. Americans were led not only to suppress their worries about COVID-19 but also not to take precautions seriously. To people like me, the message from the Trump administration was that my life does not matter.

There are now over 81,000 confirmed cases and have been over 1,100 deaths in the United States. In Italy, there are roughly 80,000 cases and have been 8,100 deaths. The pandemic effects for Italy have so far foreshadowed what effects the United States should expect in the near future.

Initially, we thought that young and healthy people were a low-risk population for COVID-19. But as research has progressed in the United States, it turns out that a large portion of hospitalized cases is between the ages of 20 and 54. For those of us who are young with preexisting conditions, the chances of hospitalization are even higher.

With chaotic leadership and misinformation, people my age are still flooding crowded clubs, beaches, and bars. With such a contagious and community-driven virus, not only is this behavior self-destructive, but it also spreads the virus to the most vulnerable in our young population — some of whom might not even be aware of their vulnerability. Most young adults do not realize that smoking and vaping count as a preexisting condition when it comes to viruses like COVID-19 that attack the lungs.

Because I cannot trust the Trump administration to prevent my death, I implore people my age to try. Practice physically distancing yourself from friends, family members, and strangers. Seek accurate information from health professionals. The next time you’re about to head to a bar, think of people like me, and other people in your life you may not think are vulnerable. I have fought too hard for my life to lose it to others’ ignorance and selfishness. Is a beer out with friends worth risking my life?

Shira Strongin resides in and attends college in Washington, D.C.