Like many people, I stayed inside my house to avoid getting and spreading Covid-19 during 2020. I was blessed enough to not only have a place to stay but also be able to finish college and start my first full-time job remotely. Since then, I have rarely left the house, mainly leaving for grocery shopping or doctor appointments that I needed to have in person. I always wore my mask out and stood six feet apart from people just to stay safe.
I had not felt any sickness during this time, and for a long time, I hoped that I wouldn’t contract the virus. But, of course, that’s not guaranteed during a pandemic.
Last year, around the second week of February, I experienced a terrible headache and sore throat, and I just generally felt bad. And soon, my family started coming down with something. I went to take the Covid test shortly afterward.
My results came back a day later in an email message. I tested positive.
In many ways, those eight letters felt like a death sentence.
I was not nor am not worried about how Covid-19 will affect me as a person. I was monitoring my symptoms and taking care of myself. But for the most part, I felt like I was just getting over a cold. I didn’t have a suppressed immune system. I am not older. And I don’t have any other major risk factors that make Covid-19 deadly for so many people. What I was worried about the most was how to tell people I knew I had Covid-19.
It’s bad enough to have a highly contagious disease that can be deadly, but it’s even worse when people stigmatize you for having such a disease.
Catching Covid-19 has become stigmatized in its own way. Some people had been (and still are) socially distancing by standing six feet apart, wearing masks everywhere they go, and staying indoors as much as possible, but they still got Covid-19. Following the CDC and scientists’ guidelines doesn’t make you immune to the virus.
Let’s continue to keep ourselves and others around us safe. While the pandemic may be officially over, Covid-19 is not. We know that Long Covid is something that’s affected many people. And many of us are still vulnerable to experiencing the worst aspects of the virus.
People with certain chronic illnesses (such as cancer and diabetes), disabled people, and those who are immunocompromised are more likely to suffer severe, or even lethal, symptoms if they catch Covid-19. And people of color, especially brown and Black people, are more likely to get Covid-19 due to inequity (Black people made up about a third of Covid-19 deaths in America in 2020 alone).
Wearing a mask wasn’t (and still isn’t) a political statement; it is a health statement. It is you saying you realize that anyone can catch Covid-19, that the virus is deadly for many people, and that you’re doing your part to help protect others out of compassion.
Let’s not shame people if they do get Covid-19. It is a highly contagious disease, and its recent strains spread more easily to other people. It’s no one’s fault if they get it. The fact that I felt shame over getting Covid-19 and that this is a common experience speaks volumes about how widespread the internalized shame is.
Finally, let’s just be better people about the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic may have ended, but its repercussions haven’t. It has revealed a lot of ugly sides of humanity—people refusing to wear masks to protect others, the public condoning and acting in racist ways, and politicians creating policies that restrict or take away disadvantaged people’s freedoms.
We have the facts. And we have empathy, which is something we can all learn to tap into. Overall, we need to do better and support one another. Offering compassion and support when possible for people who have experienced Covid-19 is just one way to do that.
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