“Most (people) were happy to see me back, but then I came a couple of them and I wanted to see them physically take a step back,” Elam said. “And I’m like ‘Whoa. You just stepped back from me. Although I’m no longer contagious. ‘”
Elam, 54, is a registered nurse at Fairbanks, a mother of three and cousin of the first resident of Alaska who died in the state of COVID-19.
She and others who spoke to the Daily News in recent months described experiencing social stigma associated with coronavirus infections, which they say has made it challenging for them to enjoy sharing their stories in public.
Others said they were protective of their privacy, worried about what the reception would be like in the workplace, and thought some might be prejudiced against people who had COVID-19 even though they were no longer contagious.
A general preference for privacy in connection with medical problems is quite common, said Dr. Bruce Chandler, a medical officer at the Anchorage Health Department.
But with coronavirus, he said the added concern is that people are worried that they may be judged for not being careful enough or for not following health mandates closely.
In many cases, Chandler said these assumptions were likely to be incorrect.
“It’s very easy to get this infection,” he said. “Even in people who religiously follow the rules and health mandates.”
Chandler said that some of the stigmas that people experience also exist because it is a new virus that we still know relatively little about. But so far, science is clear on one thing: There is no reason to avoid someone who has been cleared by the health department from ending their isolation after having COVID-19.
“We are not aware of anyone (with COVID-19) being contagious for more than 10 days,” Chandler said.
Suzi Towsley, a spokeswoman for domestic violence from Seward, tested positive for the virus in June after experiencing a scratched sensation in the back of her throat, which she would normally have dismissed as an allergy.
While Towsley is familiar with telling her story in public – she shared it with friends on Facebook – she experienced some negative reactions when people found out about her diagnosis.
“I’ve come across people since who were a little ugly about it and avoided me,” she said. “I think it’s probably carried by fear.”
Shortly after she recovered, Towsley said she ran into someone she knew in the grocery store who asked her if she had yet been tested negative.
“And I had not tested again at that time, but the state had sent me a letter that I was good to go and I could go back to work. And I did not feel the need to carry this letter around in my purse, ”she said.
Her acquaintance asked her if she was not sure she was not contagious anymore, and Towsley replied, “I would not be in the grocery store if I were.”
“I think people are scared and just do not understand,” she said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Elam, Fairbank’s nurse, said she took the virus extremely seriously. It became very real to her when her cousin died, she said.
Early on, when test supplies were limited and because she is a healthcare professional, she was encouraged to isolate as much as possible instead of regular testing.
She also asked her 25-year-old son, who lives with her, to isolate herself. It was not until the weekend of summer solstice, months after she only left home to go to work, that her son came to her and said the isolation came to him.
“He said, ‘I have to go out, I have to see my friends, I’ve never been so isolated before in my life,'” Elam said. The plan was to meet at a bar and then walk away She said she understood.
“When he left, my mother’s instinct came out and I was just thinking, ‘He’s going to be COVID this weekend,’ ‘Elam said.
She was right. By August, Elam, her husband and two of her sons had all tested positive for the virus.
On July 17, after about two weeks of illness, Elam was cleared to return to work.
In the months since she recovered, Elam said she still meets people who react badly when she tells them she had COVID-19.
“My son gave the best explanation,” she said. “It’s like if he was out for a few days with the flu, people say, ‘Oh given, I hope you feel better.’ No rejection, no reaction, nothing like that. If I tell someone I had COVID, they look at me like I’m a dirty person now. “
Now Elam said when she meets people who have also tested positive, she knows exactly what to say.
“I think all a person who has survived it wants to hear is, ‘Are you okay?’ and ‘You survived? I’m so glad to hear that. ‘”
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