I thought 2020 had reached the peak of bad news. Then I tested positive for coronavirus.
Living at home in Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp has not mandated masks by law, I was constantly concerned about the virus this summer. I was careful. I wore my mask in public. Yes, I took part in activities that risked exposure, like going to the grocery store, but I was cautious and still received a positive result. Then, in addition to worrying over the virus itself, I was subject to strangers’ judgements over the entire ordeal. If you are active on social media, you may have seen such judgements: post after post criticizing how others — young people especially — have chosen to live during this pandemic. These public tirades resemble today’s problematic and dangerous “cancel culture.” The bandwagon shaming must end. COVID-19 can happen to anybody.
You’re probably wondering what it was like to have coronavirus as a young adult. As the CDC guidelines state, symptoms will range in severity for everyone no matter their age, health, race, gender or socioeconomic class. Luckily, I experienced extremely mild symptoms: slight congestion, sore throat and five days of loss of all taste and smell.
I was well aware of the exposure I had risked boarding an airplane to come to LA, so I decided to get tested at Dodger Stadium upon arriving. I thought I was suffering from seasonal allergies, or feeling down from the change in air quality. My slight symptoms arose after my test. I realized you can be asymptomatic and still test positive. No matter how young or old you are, it is your responsibility to take decisive action about being tested after any possible exposure.
I am speaking from a place of privilege that I was able to recover. Statistical analysis shows that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals are often infected, hospitalized and killed by COVID-19 at double the rates of white people. I had access to physicians and personnel like Occidental athletic trainers Brian Gomez and Joe Gonzalez, Sara Semal from Emmons Wellness Center and my primary care physician back home in Georgia. So many people constantly checked in on me — offering to buy me groceries or sharing with me that the isolation protocol had changed from 14 days to 10 days for asymptomatic cases. Many people do not have access to quality medical care, and thus cannot protect themselves when others put them at risk.
I am by no means defending the “Hype House” tenants throwing 200-person parties in Calabasas, or the anti-maskers who believe that mask requirements infringe on their personal freedoms. But there are plenty of people like me, who wash their hands after being in public spaces, wear masks when they leave the house and do the best they can to avoid exposure. If you — even when masked — have ever taken a walk, gone to a grocery store or met with a friend from a distance, it would be hypocritical of you to assume you have never been exposed or to judge those who were. Activities deemed as “essential” can be just as dangerous as those deemed “non-essential.” Often people have no idea where they were infected. People can be exposed, and test positive, no matter what they do or who they are.
We need to change the way we communicate about our mutual responsibility to keep each other safe. Posting passive-aggressive Instagram stories regarding “acceptable” behavior during a pandemic is ineffective. We need to individually reach out, in a polite and caring way, to people in our lives who are behaving unsafely. They might have just made a mistake in search of the fulfillment and social comfort that we all crave. Additionally, we should recognize that this pandemic is just one of many adversities that affect BIPOC in this country disproportionately.
The shame perpetuated by cancel culture does not work. When people’s focus is on publicly bashing individuals and posting opinions they think will make them look good, the message and empathy fall through the cracks. I didn’t understand the impact a positive diagnosis could have on someone until I was in that position. Instead of shaming and hypocritical comments, let us focus on better ways to protect ourselves, and — most importantly — to support our friends and family by safely fulfilling our need to connect.