Announcing Diagnosis Should be the Least of COVID-19 Patients’ Worries … So Why Isn’t It?

Cartoon by Emma Hines

The first thing third-year business major Emily Goldberg wanted to do when she arrived at JFK Airport was hug her mother. Sadly, she had a date with the emergency room instead. 

Goldberg spent the semester abroad in London, but her classes crumbled in a matter of days when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled the plug on foreign academics. Without a dorm room to lay her head, she was forced to fly home. It wasn’t until her journey began that she noticed the shortness of her breath and the pain in her eyes. At JFK airport, she faced a cold reception from her mother — who wore gloves and a mask — as she slid into the backseat of the car and drove to the hospital. A few days, later she tested positive for COVID-19.

“I felt so guilty,” Goldberg said. “But I had to fly home. I had no other choice.” 

Following her diagnosis, the question on Goldberg’s mind was simple; what next? She already alerted the peers who spent time with her before the flight home, her family was in the loop. Should she notify her school, local health department or anyone else? If she hadn’t been on campus since the previous semester, why would it even matter?

As of March 31, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 163,539 cases and 2,860 deaths in the states. If all these cases were confined to Ulster County, approximately 92% of the population would be infected by now. Conversely, these cases only account for roughly 5% of the total population, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Most people recover with only mild symptoms, but the elderly, homeless and those with compromised immune symptoms are at the highest risk to succumb to te virus. Without effective treatment, and only vague educated guesses regarding the end, the worldwide motto is contain and conquer. 

It can be difficult to give up one’s life in what seems like an instant. This is by all accounts a sudden and traumatic event, but those who cling to illusions of normalcy are helping the virus to spread. If you are taking unnecessary trips to the grocery store, spent Spring break in tropical places, or continue to hang out with friends — you are part of the problem. Adjusting to new restrictions can be difficult, but for non-essential workers, self-quarantining is the bare minimum. Though social isolating may be hard, we must get used to it for the sake of vulnerable populations. 

Additionally, we at The Oracle feel that people who contract COVID-19 have a moral and civic obligation to inform the people and places they visited within two weeks of their diagnosis. 

Fear is our most formidable foe on the path to — relative — normalcy. Many millennials haven’t seen America mobilize for a crisis to this degree since the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001. If hindsight is 20/20, how are we to know if our present actions are warranted? For the past four years, President Donal Trump condemned reputable news outlets with his infamous “fake news” catchphrase. Simultaneously, many journalists constantly criticize Trump’s credibility and plant seeds of distrust towards the government, whose moral misdeeds have eroded their citizen’s faith over the past few decades. 

This international overload of fear and confusion explains why some people do not take the virus seriously enough and why the omniscient corona-curve has yet to plateau. A New Jersey man was charged with “making a terrorist threat in the third degree” and another felony after coughing on a grocery store employee and telling them that he was carrying COVID-19, according to the New York Times. This despicable disregard of the growing death toll is echoed in dark and cynical memes people are circulating to cope with their own existential dread. 

We urge our fellow Americans to stay informed on the virus with reputable agencies like the CDC and the World Health Organization. For your overall health, knowledge will be your most potent shield and warning your peers of emerging symptoms will be your salvation.

Cast aside your guilt and become a part of the solution. We must remain hyper-vigilant of emerging symptoms and remain transparent if we are sick. You have no control over others’ decisions, but only you choose what role you will play in history. By altering those around you, you can prevent others from falling ill or carrying the contagion to another uninformed host. 

In Goldberg’s case, she didn’t want to inform SUNY New Paltz  because she never stepped foot on campus that semester. Other students feel that announcing your diagnosis is “social suicide.” Sivya Schothet, a fourth-year psychology major, received an email from the college altering her that a classmate tested positive for COVID-19. The email included the student’s gender, course schedule, residence hall, the floor he lived on and dates where she may have been around said student. Given all this information, it wasn’t hard for her to come up with a list of suspects through the process of elimination. While these messages are necessary to stop the spread, they may also provide clarity on why some may feel weary of making their diagnosis known.

The CDC’s COVID-19 FAQs discuss ways to combat virus stigmas. In an already isolated society, catching the virus means face-masks, social-exclusion and apprehension from even those closest to you. Comments like Trump’s “Chinese virus” compound harmful stereotypes which, like the Japanese internment camps of World War Two, have shackled the Asian-American community.

Step back from your self-quarantine for a moment and look at the big picture. Unlike air-pollution, the power to solve this issue truly resides in the individual. Your vulnerability and recognition of your role in this pandemic is both self-liberating and inspiring to others. 

Goldberg recently posted a Tik Tok of the phone call where she received her COVID-19 diagnosis. This post went viral, garnering over 800,000 likes. While the usual crop of commenters shared their criticism, she was grateful for the wave of friends and followers who offered emotional support and turned to her for guidance. 

“I felt a lot more comfortable with people knowing about [my diagnosis] and being able to talk about my feelings,” Goldberg said. “I’m also able to mentor my scared friends from a safe distance.”