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Person coughing into inner arm

Fight the Virus, Not the Person

COVID-19 changed our world in a matter of days, our perspectives and fears along with it. Now, hearing someone cough in the grocery store may make you look twice, and taking a pizza box from the hands of a delivery driver may send you reaching for disinfectant. Despite your best efforts, these visible reactions could inspire more unease in others, or even offend.

So how can you stay safe while maintaining a sense of community? And if you do get COVID-19, what steps can you take to process the feelings that come with it? We offer this advice.

Start with the facts

Treating others differently simply because they’re sick is unfair. Anyone can catch COVID-19. Before you react to someone who is showing symptoms or was recently ill, consider these facts:

  • Diseases don’t discriminate. People of all races, ethnicities, genders and ages can get sick.
  • Most people are at low risk of becoming seriously ill from the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
  • Someone who has completed quarantine or been released from isolation does not pose a risk of infection to other people.
  • There are simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy, including knowing the true signs and symptoms.

Acknowledge the precautions you’re taking

Across the country, governments, organizations and individuals are proactively implementing changes designed to keep more people healthy. Schools and many businesses are closed, hospital systems are prepared, and each one of us is doing our part by washing our hands, wearing a mask, disinfecting surfaces and staying home as much as possible. Acknowledging this and your personal role will help shift your perspective from one of alarm to empowerment and control in an unpredictable environment, and reinforce that we are all in this together.

Give yourself grace when precautions aren’t enough

It can be startling to discover you’ve tested positive for COVID-19. You will likely have a range of emotions; you might even feel guilty. And you will surely have questions: Who did I come in contact with? Did I wear a mask the whole time? Did I touch something at the grocery store and get others sick?

The most important thing to remember is being sick is not your fault. This strain of coronavirus hasn’t been found in humans before – that’s why it’s called the new coronavirus.

Here are some ways to help you navigate and process your feelings:

  • Stay informed: Knowledge is power … to a point. It’s important to understand the disease and the steps you need to take to protect others. This will help you and those around you accept what has happened and give you a greater sense of control. But following news constantly can increase anxiety. It may be helpful to set yourself a time limit for daily news consumption, and only follow trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
  • Stay connected: Connect virtually with friends, family and others in your trusted circle. Talk about what your feelings – it helps to get things off your chest. Isolation can also be lonely, so lean on your social circle to boost your mood. And, you may want to ask them to carry out tasks for you that you won’t be able to, like picking up groceries or caring for your pets or children. There are many free video chat apps that make staying in touch easy, but a simple phone call will do, too.
  • Find coping mechanisms: Everyone handles stress differently. Explore different ways of relaxing to discover what works best for you. You might try things like deep belly breathing, meditation, finding a new hobby or yoga. (Ten Percent Happier is offering several free podcasts and meditation guides to help people through this time.) If you feel up to it, you could even go outside in your yard or garden.
  • Stay positive: Try to keep from dwelling too much on what is negative during this time. Limit your exposure to social media. Instead, focus on the good. Start a gratitude journal to document your feelings and reflect on what you have to be thankful for.

These are very different times we are living in, but that doesn’t mean our behavior toward others should falter. Stay grounded and direct your energy toward the things you can do to help beat the virus and lift up those who may be facing a challenge. Sticking together and staying strong as a community will keep us stay ready for the brighter days ahead.

Infographic with tips of combatting the stigma of sickness during COVID-19 pandemic


Go to COVID-19 Toolkit page on OhioHealth blog