HomeWorld NewsCanada newsOmicron's prevalence should shake off COVID-19's lingering stigma, experts say

Omicron’s prevalence should shake off COVID-19’s lingering stigma, experts say

Alexandra Floyd said her friends and co-workers were generally understanding when she called and texted them to say she had tested positive for COVID-19 — but still, she worried about being judged.

“I think there’s definitely that stigma related to, ‘Well, where were you? Who are you with the last couple of days? What did you do? Who are you around? Who did you expose?’ ” she told CBC News. 

“I understand those questions need to be asked, for sure … but I definitely think that there is still that stigma related to … judging people and what they did.”

The 29-year-old Toronto law clerk said that she was shocked that she contracted the virus and found it “ironic,” given how careful she’s been. She said she’s double vaccinated.

Omicron's prevalence should shake off COVID-19's lingering stigma, experts say
Alexandra Floyd says the most upsetting part about catching COVID-19 was transmitting it to her partner, whom she lives with in Toronto. (Submitted by Alexandra Floyd)

Floyd believes she was exposed at a restaurant on Dec. 10, and started to feel symptoms, which she said were similar to a bad cold, on Dec. 14. 

She happened to have a rapid test at home and tested positive the morning of Dec. 15. While waiting three days for the results of a PCR test — which confirmed she had COVID-19 and specifically the Omicron variant — Floyd contacted the friends and coworkers she’d seen the week before.

“It’s just important to be compassionate because no matter what you do, no matter how careful you are, this is extremely contagious — especially Omicron — and it’s really hard to judge.”

Infectious diseases experts say she’s right. The transmissibility of Omicron means that it can pass very easily, even to people who are vaccinated and have been trying to limit their contacts.

This newest variant is incredibly contagious, with one study suggesting that it multiplies in tissue samples of human bronchi, the tubes that carry air into the lungs, 70 times faster than the Delta variant or the original strain.

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Omicron's prevalence should shake off COVID-19's lingering stigma, experts say
Dr. Michael Gardam speaks to CBC News from Charlottetown. He says it’s likely that everyone will catch COVID-19 over the next few months, even if they’re vaccinated and try to follow the rules. (Marcy Cuttler/CBC News)

Experts warn against blame for those who test positive

“You can try your darndest and there’s still a very good chance that at some point along the next few months, you will get infected with this,” Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious diseases specialist in Charlottetown, said in an interview. 

The public health measures coming into force are meant to slow — not totally stop — Omicron’s spread, he said, noting they will buy time for more people to get booster shots, and will hopefully spread hospitalizations out over many weeks, rather than concentrated in one surge.

Gardam said he’s felt people’s shame when they’ve called him to say they have COVID-19.

“I’ve been very clear telling them, ‘Listen, this is par for the course. This is going to happen to all of us and you can’t feel guilty. This is just what is going to happen at the end of this pandemic.’ “

Other experts have been warning for months against blaming people who test positive.

In January, one regional medical officer of health in Nova Scotia told CBC’s Maritime Noon he’d even seen patients delay getting tested because they were worried about what others would think.

Omicron's prevalence should shake off COVID-19's lingering stigma, experts say

Caught COVID-19? Expert says skip the guilt and focus on protecting the vulnerable

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Duration 4:02

Rather than seeing getting sick with COVID-19 as a sign of failure, experts say it’s more important to focus on ways to protect the most vulnerable. 4:02

‘I will have this virus at some point’

Immunologist Dawn Bowdish, who teaches at McMaster University, agreed people should not blame themselves if they catch it.

“I have come to terms with the fact that I will have this virus at some point, being [an] expert and trying to do the very best things to protect myself,” she said in an interview. 

“But my hope is that with my three doses and by doing everything else that’s appropriate, I can not get it yet, to save our health-care system right now.”

WATCH | Cancel Christmas parties if you can, Quebec premier says: 

Omicron's prevalence should shake off COVID-19's lingering stigma, experts say

Calls for holiday flexibility as Omicron surge sees more daily records broken

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