I'm still recovering from COVID-19, and this journey has taught me a great deal about “the plague of the century.”
The number of people it has impacted grows daily, and that's enough to make one weary. But there's another way it's crippled humanity. This pandemic has revealed the very best and the very worst in people.
And the shame associated with the latter appears to be nearly as contagious as the virus itself.
I've observed many areas of shame associated with coronavirus. By sharing my daily struggles with the virus through social media, others soon came forward.
Several confided in me that they, too, had suffered from the virus, but didn't want to make it public.
A friend called sobbing after reading one of my posts because it triggered the raw emotions he felt as he was suffering quietly from COVID-19.
When I asked why he didn't let others know he was sick, he said he was embarrassed and afraid of judgment.
Ridicule or the anticipation of ridicule has no place in a pandemic.
And the shame continues.
Others have relayed to me that people in their social circles were upset to have been notified for contract-tracing purposes. Why? Because they didn't want their lives interrupted.
I've also known some who didn't want to be tested for coronavirus because they were afraid of a possible positive result. COVID-19 is a virulent plague, and those who may have been exposed deserve to know. Shaming others for being responsible, transparent and accountable is itself a shameful act and, again, has no place during a pandemic.
Mask shaming has gone on for months and unfortunately has intertwined this pandemic with politics – a perfect recipe for a public health disaster.
Since I made my diagnosis public, people have shared with me a wide array of theories about mask efficacy, ranging from they're a proven form of protection to that masks make us more susceptible to viruses. One offered she was surprised I contracted the virus because I was, and remain, a “masker.” In her mind, this upheld her hypothesis that masks are deleterious to our health.
Those who choose to wear masks may have compromised health. They may have just recovered from coronavirus. Or, perhaps they're concerned about others.
Wearing masks help prevent the spread of contagion, but they're not a 100% guarantee of protection from exposure, my own case in point. Only total isolation is.
I admit after my experience with this awful virus, I have a deepened gratitude for health care providers and those in other professions, such as first responders, who have long worn various face coverings without complaint.
The pandemic has revealed some really awful things about societal inequities, failed emergency response systems and the ugliness that lives in some.
It's also revealed what's truly important in life and the kindness many more are capable of. While the former makes my heart heavy, the latter gives me hope.
A former student shared, “This [the pandemic] should be an absorbed lesson to all to focus on our health, sense of community and compassion, taking a pause to slow life down a bit in appreciation of the small gifts every day brings, and how structural change is required in so many areas.”
I couldn't agree more.
I despise this virus for many reasons. It's taken so many lives and the way it manifests in people differs, which makes it all the more challenging to understand and control.
In fact, it's this range of experience that has lent to some taking coronavirus seriously and others far less. Whether you think COVID-19 is a threat or not, there's no room for shame of any kind during this pandemic.
A friend was recently called “dirty” for having contracted the virus and choosing to mask thereafter. Is this really the best we, as a society, can do under such circumstances?
The love and support I've experienced from so many of you is the sort of compassion I want to remember most about this experience, not the invisible monster that will persist if people continue to choose ego over the well-being of humanity.
Melissa Rinehart is executive director of Wellspring Interfaith Social Services.