Social Stigma of COVID-19

By Jack Rubinger

Some people are born to be caregivers. Others grow into the role. 

In Maria Beatty’s case, she was born into a caregiver role as part of big, Cuban family. She’s cared for her daughters and her whole family has taken care of one another.

So when Beatty’s mom started feeling ill during the pandemic, the whole caregiver model started to break down as her mom’s caregivers all fell ill, her daughter fell ill and eventually Beatty fell ill. She couldn’t taste or smell.

Who was caring for whom? Where were the gaps? What kind of courage would it take for the care giving to continue? 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), during outbreaks or pandemics, human fear arises from the anxiety about a disease of an unknown cause and possible fatal outcome, especially when infection control techniques such as quarantine and isolation are applied to protect the community.

In the past, stigma has been associated with different infectious diseases and resulted in discrimination against these patient groups, which caused negative consequences both on the individuals and society, according to the NIH.

These features, which have been reported during the COVID-19 pandemic in different studies, may result in stigmatization of the potentially infected that flourishes with dramatic stories in media and through the internet, NIH sources reported.

In my case, I grew into the role of caregiver. While I cared for my son when he was little, working from home, taking him to indoor play parks, plunking him in front of the TV so I could get work done, it was a reluctant role. I felt somewhat bitter and annoyed at times, but we got through the period and I think we formed a really tight bond.

Many, many years later, I got into the healthcare field as a result of my interest in music performance and working with seniors. This was my entree into the world of caregiver — forming relationships with new people, getting into the details of their lives and lifting their spirits through laughter, music and games. But then I’d go home and leave it all behind.

At a certain point, the pandemic hit everyone and it hit the healthcare industry hard. People began getting sick. I got sick and I was forced to quarantine. 

When I returned, I was treated like a pariah — an outcast blamed for getting sick. This was where I encountered the social stigma of COVID-19. Eventually I was dismissed which created a mixture of relief, sadness and appreciation for being a caregiver. No one could ever disagree that I didn’t care for “my people” every day. 

A compounding situation for Beatty’s mom was that she also suffered from mental health issues and an assortment of medical issues. The result was that her COVID-19 wasn’t diagnosed quickly. 

In many ways it was a blessing because she didn’t really know what was going on. Her caregivers thought she was suffering from a simple cold.

Beatty is a certified fitness instructor and felt the social stigma of COVID-19 when she had to tell her fitness clients about her illness. She felt shame and embarrassment as the caregiver responsible for the group. She felt she was letting them down. 

She was afraid people would be mad at her. Eventually she opened up to her people and her people opened up to her. Stories were shared and healing began.

“It’s affected all of us. We’re all connected,” said Beatty. “We can get over our fears by telling our stories.”

Beatty continues to care for city employees as an instructor with stretching programs for health and wellness.

Social Stigma of COVID-19

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