This Student Had COVID-19. Here’s What She Wants You to Know.

“If you can avoid it, you should avoid it, and there’s no reason to not take reasonable precautions.”

That’s Madeleine Biache on staying safe throughout the semester. Biache survived COVID-19. She was a Pitt student when she got it, studying political science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, with minors in economics and French and a certificate in EU studies. She was visiting a friend for spring break when she contracted the virus.

a woman in a mask making a peace sign with a medical professional in a full-body suit behind herShe remembers it well because it was Pi Day, March 14—so early in the pandemic that Biache and her friend made the news for being two of the first cases in Maine.

“It was brutal,” she said.

But the thing that concerns her most now is the perspective she’s seen among peers that it won’t be so bad, or that young people don’t get it.

“When I got COVID I was 21 years old, relatively healthy, I don’t have asthma, don’t smoke, I’m not diabetic, I’m reasonably active. And I still got it from exposure at a bar from someone who was at the time asymptomatic,” Biache said.

“College is a lot of fun, but the benefit of not having COVID is absolutely better than—absolutely outweighs—having COVID and having gone to the party.

“If you can avoid getting it, great. If you can avoid giving it to someone else, even better,” she said.

The Trenton, New Jersey, native completed her spring semester at Pitt online from Maine, where she was quarantined for over a month.

Nearly six months later, she said, she has sustained lung damage and a cough. “I still can barely walk up a flight of stairs. I still can hardly take my dog for a walk around the block without being completely out of breath.”

“Young people are not immune,” said Chris O’Donnell, member of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office. “One of the dangers of COVID-19 seems to be a long-haul effect, where people suffer from sustained complications, even after recovering from it and no longer being at risk for spreading the virus.”

Biache is graduating, so she won’t be returning to campus in the fall. But she wants people to be wary. She has a younger sister who’s returning to another Pennsylvania state school this fall.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” she said. “It’s difficult because there’s so much information about COVID-19 that isn’t consistent. It’s easy to build a lot of narratives so it’s difficult to get everyone on the same page about it.”

The most important thing she said, is for people to look out for each other.

“It’s definitely possible for college to not be terrible during this time. I mean, it’s not ideal but you can always make the best of a situation.

“For first years, it’s going to be hard. Your first year is where you make so many of your close friends, so many memories. The adjustment is already difficult without having to adjust to stuff online.”

But student clubs and organizations have moved online, too. The 2020 Club Sports and Fall Student Activities Fair are happening this Saturday, Aug. 22, from 1 to 3 p.m. There’s lots to do and still so many ways to get involved.

“And it’ll get better. It’s not going to be like this forever,” Biache added.

“For sophomores and juniors and seniors, I would say, rely on the communities that you’ve built. Don’t be afraid to try new things still. You’ve got a lot of time ahead of you. Take a moment and stop and reflect on where you’re at, and how far you’ve come and where you’d like to be—and if those things don’t align then this is your opportunity to readjust.

“Take this as an opportunity to do an internal vibe check. If you’re not so happy with the way things are, this is your sign.”