Let’s erase the stigma associated with getting COVID-19

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Sabrina Almeida

Have you or a family member tested positive for the coronavirus? Were you comfortable sharing this with your social circle? How did relatives and friends react to your news?

You were probably asked how or where you got infected every time you told someone you got Covid, right?

Did you feel that you were being judged? Many COVID-19 victims are upset with the social shaming and blaming they have endured, especially at the start of the pandemic when everything was locked down. So, they don’t want to talk about or discuss it.

The question might seem harmless on the surface. It is human to want to know the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of things. That’s how we process things in our minds. But insinuations that individuals got infected because they acted irresponsibly offends  and hurts them.

The general assumption is that the person was not being careful and mingling with large groups or travelling when they shouldn’t have. Some even attribute the infection to being unhygienic.

A friend who tested positive early this week asked me not to share the information, for the same reason. I called her about a meeting and she explained her absence to me. But she did not want anyone else to know this. So, we agreed to say she had a personal matter to deal with.

I’m guilty of both offenses — asking the ‘how’ question as well as having my own theories about where the transmission may have occurred based on an individual’s lifestyle. So, I feel compelled to share that my friend contracted the coronavirus from her school-going kids. Hers is a poster case of schools being petri dishes. With indoor masking being optional the probability of transmission is even higher now– so if any finger pointing is to be done, you know where to direct it… Her whole family was infected!

The truth is, with waste water samples indicating an average of over 100,000 daily COVID-19 infections, there’s no sense to the ‘how’ question anymore. 

Covid is rampant in Ontario, Canada, and the entire world. And studies show that at such times, even a person who takes extreme precautions could still get ill. 

Another fact is that being low-risk doesn’t mean zero risk. It only takes one exposure for transmission to occur. Moreover, we could be asymptomatic and never know we contracted the virus.

Given that Covid might be around for a long time – through different mutations and sub-variants like Omicron — we ought to support not turn on one another.

Part of keeping ourselves and one another safe is trying to avoid contributing to the shame and stigma surrounding Covid. 

We need to know when people we are in close contact with are infected in order to prevent community spread. But fear of being stigmatized and socially isolated may prevent people from disclosing their illness, getting tested and seeking treatment. The stigma also has serious mental health repercussions like depression and anxiety. 

Respect and empathy, on the other hand, can encourage individuals to share  information and help curtail exposure. Especially among the vulnerable people in our household and community.

We don’t ask someone how they got the flu; the same rule should apply to COVID-19 infections. Let’s also respect people’s privacy and not divulge they’ve been infected to others. That’s their news to share. 

More importantly, let’s stand up for those who are being stigmatized – whether it is in a phone conversation or social media! Stigma is born out of fear and uncertainty – but after more than two years of living with the pandemic we ought to know better!!!

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