Overcoming the Stigma of a Positive COVID-19 Test Result

April 7, 2020

As if battling the illness wasn’t enough, some coronavirus positive patients have experienced death threats or hate mail, loss of friends, and shame.

To overcome fear, we have to equip ourselves with the facts. Here are 4 ways we can beat the stigma associated with a COVID-19 positive test result.

1. Know the facts about how the virus spreads and infection risk.

The widespread panic from this disease is reminiscent of the AIDS epidemic, when it was not quite understood how the disease could spread. For both COVID-19 positive patients and the unexposed community, the best way to overcome panic is to know the truth.

Understand these core elements:

  • How the virus spreads – Coronavirus spreads mainly from close person-to-person contact. Respiratory droplets from an infected person can spread through coughs or sneezes. The virus may also linger on solid surfaces like railings or counter tops. If you touch the railing and then touch your face without washing your hands you might become infected. While those who are sick and exhibit symptoms have the greatest risk for transmission, we now know that asymptomatic patients can also transmit the virus, sometimes without ever falling ill.
  • How to protect yourself and others – Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, or hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes and face. Practice social distancing, and if you must leave your home, stay at least 6 feet apart from others. If you must go out where social distancing is more difficult, like the supermarket or pharmacy, wear a cloth face covering. And this is crucially important, stay home if you are sick. Clean frequently touched surfaces. Only go to the emergency department for severe symptoms like difficulty breathing or chest pain, or if you have other underlying health conditions.
  • When you’re no longer at risk of spreading the infection – If you don’t have access to testing to see if you are still contagious, the CDC advises you can leave home isolation if you have had no fever for at least 72 hours (without the use of medicine to reduce fever), your symptoms have improved and at least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared. However, there is still a small chance that you may transmit the virus for another week or more, so it is important to continue to maintain social distancing and other precautions.

2. Understand that anyone can contract the virus.

With the first known cases of the disease emerging in China, those of Asian descent have experienced prejudice simply because of their race. As the disease has continued to spread throughout the states, so has fear – health care workers and emergency responders, while being praised for their courage, are also feared.

Regardless of race, ethnicity or profession, COVID-19 can infect anyone. Practice the simple steps to protect yourself and remember to treat everyone with respect.

3. Don’t be afraid to seek help to manage your stress.

Whether you are a COVID-positive patient suffering anxiety, or are afraid of contracting the virus yourself, know the resources available to you.

  • Ten Percent Happier – This free resource has provided the Coronavirus Sanity Guide. It includes meditations, podcasts, and blogs, all for free to help promote “calm amidst the chaos.”
  • Psychological First Aid – The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology developed a free resource site which includes short videos demonstrating exercises anyone can do to help calm the nervous system, self soothe, and clear the mind. Along with the videos are written instructions in multiple language options.
  • NJ Mental Health Cares 1-866-202-HELP (4357) – New Jerseyans can call this free confidential support line to speak with trained specialists who can help those dealing with anxiety and worry related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The line is active 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
  • Schedule a telehealth or virtual check in with a counseling psychiatrist. In the climate of social distancing, many of our providers are offering appointments via video chat or phone call. You can find a doctor by visiting HackensackMeridianHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.

4. Be kind; remember we are all human.

Perspective is an important tool for understanding. If you have recently recovered from COVID-19, your community, friends and even family may be fearful that you are still contagious. Anxiety may make them distant or cold to you. Be patient and lean on (metaphorically, keep your 6 feet space radius) your other support systems. They will come around.

If you know someone who has been battling COVID-19, have compassion and be supportive in their recovery. They did not want this disease, as much as you don’t want it.

We are all in this together, and we will get through it. Be kind to one another and be safe.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.