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COVID shaming

A sign at the Adirondack Medical Center COVID Clinic warns people to not harm the nursing staff. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

It was just a matter of time that I’d have to come back to the reality of living life during a pandemic. I just wasn’t expecting to do it as a statistic.

(I’ve asked permission to share this journey for anyone thinking I’d release private information without someone’s knowledge.)

It only takes one impatient person to shut down a high school. Keep that in mind when making the decision not to wear a mask or not to wait for test results. One person. My son met up with a group of his girlfriend’s high school friends. They all quarantined and were tested. Most of them acted responsibly. They all followed the rules, as inconvenient as the rules were, except one girl. Her results didn’t come back in time to join her friends, so she decided to ski anyway. Here is the wrinkle. You don’t know this girl, and she has been shamed enough. Her actions caused a waterfall of reactions that altered this community and many others’ lives. Numerous families had to quarantine, businesses (out of this area) shut down, and health complications are still happening from the fallout. She learned a monumental lesson. I hope the weight of it and the shaming doesn’t crush her. 

I’m guilty. My gut reaction when I heard the news that my son was infected has been dubbed the “Five-Minute Fury.” I was full-blown fearful/angry while I wondered if I could have infected my 92-year-old mother, anyone else I’d come in contact with, or jeopardized someone’s life or livelihood. Contact tracing is humbling. It brought up an array of feelings ranging from being irresponsible to being anti-social.

Thankfully, our routine has been, if any one of us leaves our pod, when they come back they need to stay separate from the rest of the family. The issue though isn’t whether we can claim this wasn’t our fault. Some of us still got infected. Our routine didn’t help the other five families. Please don’t even “hoax,” “get over it, “or “like the flu” me. Don’t go there. I lost a friend to COVID, and he had no preexisting conditions. 

My daughter and I tested negative while my husband and son tested positive. I bleached every counter, light switch and bathroom countless times a day. I made separate meals and walked around in a mask and gloves while still trying to care for three family members and an elderly parent. We followed Essex County quarantine and isolation rules and eventually were released. Think about what a nurse or doctor does to make people feel comfortable. I don’t know how they do it. Good grief. I never want to deal with my family again.

I was warned by a friend to be aware of the shaming. I thought she was being ridiculous. Any one of us could have gotten COVID from anywhere. When I went for my second test, I noticed a sign at the COVID test tent stating that harassing a nurse is a federal crime. I asked the nurse on duty, and she admitted they have been harassed, bullied, threatened and endangered for doing their jobs. These are professionals in a health care crisis. 

My family’s COVID experience brought out a few different reactions from friends and acquaintances. Some people were unaware of the circumstances. Mind reading can’t be an expectation, so either ask for help or let them off the hook. Some people were aware but did nothing. They were uncomfortable reaching out and not sure of the details. They didn’t know what to do or how to help. Some people reached out. They baked cookies and listened. They understood that no question was stupid in a time when a virus mutates and outcomes are different. They offered to drop off groceries and asked if there was anything they could do to help. 

Then there were the people who found out we had COVID and reached out to let me know how scared they were. They didn’t ask about my family but let me know how horrible we should feel because our actions made things inconvenient for them. Their Five-Minute-Fury reached beyond knee-jerk to full furious. Be any of the examples above, but don’t become full furious. It’s OK to be frightened, but please don’t let it take over your sense of decency. It isn’t helpful to be angry and blame. It doesn’t change the circumstances. 

I am so grateful for all the nurses, doctors and health care professionals who helped my family and continue to keep our community safe. I am thankful for the perspective I gained. If you or your family contracts COVID, please reach out for help. If you know someone who has COVID, please be helpful and don’t judge them. It’s a large enough load to carry without your opinions weighing them down. Stay safe.

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