The stigma of the coronavirus

October 22, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the United States, concern over the virus has manifested itself in a variety of ways.

In some cases, anxiety or fear can result in stigmatizing people with the virus.

Stigma is a mark of disgrace or a form of discrimination against a person or group of people, place or characterization. With a heightened awareness of how COVID-19 spreads and where outbreaks originate, it can be easy to blame someone or someplace for the spread of the virus.

But, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “no single person or group of people are more likely than others to spread COVID-19.” Blaming or shaming groups or individuals can be harmful and could make people targets for misplaced anger or hostility.

Moreover, it could prompt some to hide their symptoms for fear of being ostracized or targeted.

“People don’t want to be isolated,” says Phillip Cozzi, MD, pulmonologist and medical director of the Sleep Center at Elmhurst Hospital. “They want to continue to work and interact with family and friends. They don’t want to lose their status in the community simply by contracting a virus.”

As we continue to fight the spread of COVID-19, it is important to report any virus symptoms and to stay home if you are ill. If you become infected with the virus, be sure to let those with whom you have had recent contact (within the three days prior to a positive result) know that they may have been exposed, says Dr. Cozzi.

“Everyone in the community needs to be forthright with their infection,” says Dr. Cozzi.

And while that kind of forthrightness is key in fighting the virus, Dr. Cozzi added that fighting the stigma also is important.

“Welcome people back when they are no longer infected,” he adds.

The CDC recommends some ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 stigma:

  • Educate yourself with facts about the virus. Visit the CDC site or your local health department for information about COVID-19.
  • Reach out to those who may feel stigmatized by the virus. While you may not be able physically visit someone who is quarantined by the virus, an encouraging text, phone call or card can help let them know they are not alone.
  • Take time to thank and show your support for essential workers such as grocery store clerks, healthcare workers, first responders, such as police or paramedics, and delivery or busy drivers.
  • Speak up when you hear or see misinformation about the virus.

As we continue the fight against COVID-19 it is important to remember that the community is in this fight together. Treating each other with dignity and respect and quelling rumors and misinformation will help guide us through this.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our top priority is the safety and protection of patients, staff, physicians and the community. For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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