COVID-19 survivors already fight stigma; worry Trump’s diagnosis will make it worse

For a blip in history, Yvette Paz possessed the clout to shut down an entire hospital. Her magical power? Coronavirus.

In mid-March, Paz, who had served in the Marines, became VA Long Beach Healthcare System’s first confirmed COVID-19 patient. After the Huntington Beach resident tested positive, the veterans hospital banished all visitors.

“Yep, that was me,” Paz, 30, said. “I felt like a pariah.”

It’s an onus she carries still. Young and fit, Paz fought off her pneumonia without needing a ventilator. But a stigma that came with the soon-to-be common diagnosis continues to shadow her.

“When I called my family and friends to tell them, they had major freak outs: ‘Does this mean you gave it to me?’” Paz said. “I had an incredible feeling of guilt.”

Once home, Paz did not simply bounce back but, rather, continued to suffer extreme exhaustion.

“For weeks, even my mom was afraid to be around me,” she said. “That does a number on you.”

Some people accused her of melodrama. “I had a friend yell at me that I’m a ‘sheep’ falling for a liberal conspiracy.”

Stigmas surrounding disease are as old as humankind. Only a few decades ago, cancer often was dealt with as a family secret. And victims of AIDS – a disease that was most common among gay men — endured the full brunt of prejudice in the 1980s.

“With COVID, we see the stigma cycle present once more,” said Brandon Brown, who teaches public health at the University of California, Riverside.

President Donald Trump’s diagnosis might help alleviate some of that stigma – or not, given that coronavirus is a key political issue.

“I hope the president’s diagnosis is a turning point for many people in their thinking,” Brown said. “Everyone needs to understand they are at risk of getting infected. For many, it seems like the only way to believe COVID-19 exists is to see it personally.”

Ian Barnard, who has studied the AIDS epidemic as director of LGBTQ Studies at Chapman University, is not optimistic that recent events will move the needle regarding COVID’s stigma.

“Already, the president is conveying the message that an individual can conquer coronavirus with sheer willpower,” Barnard said.

But the stigma does not emanate from just one side. Victims of coronavirus report insensitivity from both ends of the political spectrum.

Now back at her job as a security manager on Hollywood movie sets, Paz has noticed that “people immediately take two steps back” when she mentions her coronavirus ordeal.

“The first question is always, ‘How did you get it?,’ as though I must’ve been irresponsible,” Paz said.

Santa Monica art designer Cinzia Carlo, 50, came down with coronavirus in April and still encounters shortness of breath. She believes people reassure themselves of their own invincibility by imagining that COVID seriously impacts only those with compromised health.

“My own family tries to come up with reasons I still don’t feel well,” Carlo said. “My mother asked, ‘Didn’t you have asthma?’ She knows I didn’t have asthma! It’s denial.”

Despite starting their journeys as athletes with no preexisting conditions, neither Paz nor …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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