Telling other people about catching Covid

In this section we explore people’s experiences of telling other people when they found out they had caught Covid. People we spoke to had a range of feelings about telling others. Most felt they had a responsibility to tell people they had recently seen. People sometimes said they felt guilty about being a source of spread, but they also talked about the government’s responsibilities to keep down infection rates.

We also talked with people who had decided   not to tell many others. Although reactions were often very sympathetic some felt that they were stigmatised for having Covid. The topics in this section are:

  • Feeling responsible for telling recent contacts
  • Openness and secrecy about Covid
  • Reactions from other people

Feeling responsible for telling recent contacts

People we spoke with often told other people when they found out or suspected that they had Covid. Sarita described feeling a responsibility to tell others. Tony Z said, ‘If you’ve got a conscience and you’re not feeling well and you’ve tested positive, you have to let people know’. He had recently lost a friend to Covid, and was worried about Covid spreading to people with underlying health conditions or who had not been vaccinated. Fahmida said, ‘You need to care for others’ by telling them. Sindhu let the whole neighbourhood know because she ‘didn’t want to infect anyone’.

Jaswinder told her recent contacts that she had Covid so that they could get tested.

Karin emailed her neighbours to let them know that she had Covid.

Feelings of responsibility sometimes came with feelings of guilt, even when people had been following rules and guidance. Miura felt guilty because ‘you feel like you’ve passed it on and you don’t know if that person is going to be ok or not’. Matt said ‘you wouldn’t want to be the person who was responsible, even without fault, for someone else not being well’. Samena said that it had been ‘horrible, absolutely horrible’ to have to tell people. Frequent changes in government guidance made it difficult for people to be always sure they were acting safely. Gulsoom said, ‘There’s constant changes in the government guidelines and I think it’s just really, it’s constantly confusing’.

Matt was backtracking through all the people he had seen recently, hoping he hadn’t infected anyone.

As well as feeling personal responsibility, people we spoke to also recognised that there were factors beyond their control that influenced the spread of Covid and how ill people became. Emma said that ‘the evidence is overwhelming that what the job you do, where you live, your socioeconomic status is most, those are the most important aspects of whether or not you actually succumb to this thing’ (see Risk from exposure).

Some people also discussed the government’s responsibilities to protect people from Covid. Paul thought that the government was not looking out for him during the pandemic and felt vulnerable. Temitope said that the government had done their best. Surindar was frustrated that the government had proposed there would be a ‘ring of protection’ around care homes, like the one her husband was living in, but said ‘I didn’t see any ring of protection and I still don’t see it.’

Shaista said it was shocking that the government wanted to absolve its responsibility for the pandemic and blame people individually for their behaviour.

Cat weighed up her own responsibilities and the government’s. She thought that the government had not done enough to keep the country safe.

Openness and secrecy about Covid

Sometimes people we spoke to didn’t feel comfortable about telling people that they had Covid. Shirin reflected that ‘not everybody can actually talk openly about their Covid situation’.

Several suggested that there was more secrecy about having Covid at the beginning of the pandemic when it was a new illness. Rabbi Wollenberg, who caught Covid in March 2020, remembers ‘it wasn’t something we were sharing’. Mr Eshaan, who also had Covid early in the pandemic, only told immediate family that he was unwell because of what he thought was stigma associated with having Covid.

Mr Eshaan remembers there being a stigma to saying you had Covid at the start of the pandemic.

Some people we spoke to didn’t want to worry or upset others, particularly at times when there were high numbers of deaths from Covid. Lyn didn’t mention she had Covid to her parents because her aunt had recently died from Covid.

Tony X didn’t tell his daughter when he had Covid because he thought it would send her into ‘scare mode’.

Medhi didn’t speak with his family about having Covid to avoid worrying them.

By 2021, lots of people knew someone who had already had Covid. Sonal said, ‘I didn’t feel there was anyone I didn’t want to tell. Because by this year it was very popular. There was nothing to hide about.’ Ayny caught Covid in December 2020, when Covid was ‘spreading like wildfire’, and thought there was less judgment because it was ‘kind of inevitable’ that people would get it. Kashif felt there was less stigma because ‘it was so around, it was so high and a lot of people had it’.

Pooja didn’t keep Covid a secret.

Even when Covid became more common, some people we spoke to were worried about being judged by others for having caught Covid. They were concerned that they would be perceived as having broken rules or taken risks, even if they had been acting within government guidance. Mohammed suggested that some people in the Asian community didn’t want to disclose that they had Covid because they were worried other people would think that ‘they are not good people’.

Cat felt like a social pariah when she got Covid. She imagined people would think she was an irresponsible young person.

Mohammed said that some people in the Asian community thought Covid was ‘a kind of sin’, but that it was becoming easier to talk openly about it.

Abdul and Nargis only told people about Covid when it came up in conversation. Rabbi Wollenberg remembered thinking ‘it was kind of my personal business, but I wasn’t specifically hiding it’.

Beth didn’t want to keep re-living her Covid experience, so preferred not to tell people.

Some people we spoke to felt very comfortable to tell other people about having Covid. When Elvis found out he was positive he told people all over the world, ‘I contacted people in Africa. I contacted people in America’. Mahabuba got her Covid result in the middle of the night so the first people she spoke to were family in a different time zone in Bangladesh.

Robert didn’t feel there was any stigma in having Covid and thought that talking about it made people reach out to him. He said ‘the world is better where people speak out rather than be silent’. Cindy said, ‘it’s nothing to hide’. She understood that some people don’t want to talk about their health issues with other people, but felt that ‘there’s no shame’ in having caught Covid. Aytana wasn’t embarrassed because ‘because we’re all in it’.

Robert felt that speaking out about having Covid was important for challenging stigma and getting support.

Gulsoom found that telling her story about Covid helped other people to open up about their Covid experiences.

When Tony Z mentioned he had Covid on Facebook to encourage others to take the pandemic seriously lots of people reached out to offer help.

Reactions from other people

People mentioned positive and negative reactions after telling people they had Covid . Ayny was ‘just inundated with the amount of response of flowers and cards and people sending me stuff’. Rabbi Wollenberg was overwhelmed by the kindness shown by people in his community.

Sam posted about having Covid on Facebook and found that everyone was sympathetic.

Others felt that they were sometimes stigmatised for having Covid. There was confusion about how long after getting infected people could pass Covid on. Sarita knew her infectious period was about 10 days and was frustrated when people wanted to keep away from her for longer.

Helen’s friend didn’t want to meet up with her because of a lingering cough after having Covid.

Sarita corrected someone who suggested she might still be infectious after 10 days.

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