A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

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.

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

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Everybody, in our family, everybody knew and the people whom we had met two to four days earlier. We asked them as well, that they should get tested. We said, “you’ve been identified as at risk from our (positive test)”. We didn’t want that somebody else should have a problem because of us, right? It’s not like it is something to hide, Tanvi [Researcher’s name]. So, we have this problem, and we cannot do anything about it, you know? So, what is the point of hiding it? If I have it, and I know these people were in contact with me. So then if I hide then those people. Something bad could happen to them, isn’t it? So, their health, before anything goes wrong. So, the better thing would be that everyone also gets tested. So, that if they are positive then they can get treated quickly.

 

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

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

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We actually wrote an e-mail to everybody to let them know, you know, keep out kind of thing, we wrote an e-mail just, because we have so many old people, our neighbours, we just wanted, you know, to, black and white this is how it is and then you can choose another way around our house or, or whatever you want, yeah. No misunderstanding.


 
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.

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

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And, of course, then I felt terrible on the day of getting tested positive the following Friday. Of course, I was backtracking those people who I’d seen within the last two weeks. I thought, I could’ve got it wrong about contracting or getting infected at the football. It could’ve been days before that. So then, of course, I was in a rather tired state just trying to contact those people who I’d had close contact with in the previous two weeks. And hoping to goodness that I hadn’t infected any and luckily, I hadn’t, surprisingly.

 

Sarita, a childminder, felt guilty that the families of the children she cared for had to isolate.

Sarita, a childminder, felt guilty that the families of the children she cared for had to isolate.

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But then the parents were very very supportive about it and you know it was not like it was my fault. But luckily, I would say that it was good in a way I did not have any other children because you know there are times where I have about five children in the house. So I do not even want to imagine telling each and every one you’ve got to isolate, you’ve got to isolate, but yeah it was…it [laughs]. But you do feel, I don’t know, I don’t know about other people… do you need to feel guilty about it because I don’t know? Sometimes it was like oh god it’s because of me she has to isolate kind of a thing. But then it’s not my… it’s not anybody’s fault really is it?


 
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.

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

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I also feel that it’s shocking that a government is trying to absolve responsibility for taking control of a pandemic and busy telling people that actually your behaviours are on you. If you want to do something, you should do something. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Beyond wearing a mask and washing your hands and social distancing which nobody understands what social distancing means. This is the concept that makes no sense to anyone. These were the three key messages that kept being pumped out but then there were things like, “well if you want to go somewhere, you can go somewhere but if you don’t want to go somewhere, don’t go somewhere." Just absolutely ridiculous and very dangerous and the whole ethos of that messaging is to blame people individually for a pandemic rather than taking responsibility for a well-messaged clearly defined public health strategy that is going to save lives. It’s just damning, and I feel that for those people who are sceptical of the medical profession anyway or who are scared quite frankly you know, they that’s very confusing and very damaging.

 

Rabbi Wollenberg reflected that it was ‘quite traumatic’ making personal decisions about Covid risk when government rules relaxed.

Rabbi Wollenberg reflected that it was ‘quite traumatic’ making personal decisions about Covid risk when government rules relaxed.

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We have to follow the rules because we have to be seen to follow the rules, and we don’t actually have to sit down and decide how vulnerable we feel. When things relaxed in whenever it was, July or August it was actually quite traumatic for us, because we suddenly had to say to ourselves, okay, how far are we going to take this now? Because we don’t have to do all these things, but actually we’ve got really used to it, because we’ve had to do all kind of risk assessments and we’ve been on the front lines of, when we have had Covid cases and we’ve had to go speak to Public Health England and bodies we are we are all too aware of the risks, and actually, are we comfortable going to indoor gatherings? Do we feel like we shouldn’t be wearing masks? Are we comfortable having people in our home? Are we comfortable with all these things? And I think we probably have almost fluctuated perhaps between extremes of feeling that, just because the government wants the economy to open doesn’t mean, for us, it sort of from a religious perspective it’s always been about the threat to life. You know, why are we allowed to close our synagogues, denying people the most basic religious practices, because of threat to life. So just because the government decides it’s more important for the economy to reopen or schools to reopen, doesn’t mean that the threat to life has receded, in which case we would have a religious duty to take precautions.

 

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

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

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I think that I was wrong, and I think that it was irresponsible and I do think that I paid the price for that, but I also at the same time, was very aware that on a macro level, that’s not just interpersonal responsibilities, I was very angry at the government because they were doing piss all. Like they were doing nothing ,and I remember at the beginning being like I’m so grateful that I’m not in Italy, like, Italy sounds really scary and it’s everywhere. And then in hindsight once we had then became and surpassed Italy, I thought oh wow, like Italy actually did a lockdown. And they actually like I’m fairly sure that they provided food for their citizens and, and I started looking, instead of being like scared looking at other countries like, what was it like Vietnam had like 10 cases or something ridiculous. Even China itself, was very, very like heavy on the lockdowns which obviously there’s you know, it’s more complex than that but in contrast, I felt very strongly and still do feel very strongly that our government was not doing one cent of what it should be doing, and that on a greater level they had a responsibility which they shirked, to protect the population.

 


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.

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

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I think it’s the stigma of saying you had a virus. You had the virus, people thought the virus was some kind of a germ, put it that way, you know. Or you were dirty and that’s why you got the virus, you know or people wouldn't want to know you, you know or they would keep away.


 
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’.

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

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And yeah like what, did you tell your daughter, I’m thinking, was she worried about you?

No, no, no, I didn’t, no, I kept it from her [laughs]. No, ‘cos she’s a performer and I don’t want her to be thinking of other things and thinking, “oh when is dad-” because the news was, it was, it’s pure doom and gloom in March, April, May when you heard of the death counts and this and the numbers going up and so on. So, that, that was kept from her, no, I wouldn’t have shared that with her because that would have just sent her into scare mode, fright and it’s either fight or flight or what have you. So, no, I, I, didn’t want her to, to have that at the back or front of her mind, ‘cos it would detract from what she does in, in her profession. So, she was not told.

 

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

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

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We didn’t speak with our family because my mother has high blood pressure, so I worried about her. So sometimes she’d call to us, “Oh how are you?” “Oh I’m alright thank you. I’m busy so sorry, I can’t speak with you.” “Okay no problem, next time.”


 
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.

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Pooja didn’t keep Covid a secret.

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And we didn’t keep it a secret. I don’t think it was, I know that some people do, do that, do not tell anybody because they feel ashamed or they don’t want to have to isolate or whatever but that wasn’t, that’s not the stance I was taking.


 
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.

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

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You know, don’t really want to tell people because like you know social pariah, that you’ve got symptoms, or you’ve got a positive test. Because also it was quite bound up in like moralisation for me, having to tell people like “Oh I had corona.” Because in my mind that inferred that I had been being irresponsible because I was at uni.

 

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.

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.

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Even there is a tendency among the, particularly Asian community, if one who has got Covid, they did not want to expose it. They felt that like, the Covid is a kind of sin. Sorry?
 
Like a sin did you say?
 
Yeah, yeah. They think that, yes, it’s not a good thing. So if we have Covid, if people know, other family members, or other friends know, they think themselves that they are not good people. But yeah, it changed, because this, Covid has got widespread on the wider community, then they realise that it is not an offensive thing. So.

 


 
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.

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

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I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Because I thought to myself, you know, if I don’t tell this person and I’m not going to have to tell them in the future and you know and keep going on about it. I don’t want it to be a ‘oh my god they’ve had Covid,’ you know I don’t, I just want it to be done, over and finished with. And I just want to not think about it and you know, what’s done is done and it’s done. I don’t want to keep reliving it if that makes sense.

 


 
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.

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

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No, I actually spoke with both my manager, I spoke with some of my colleagues, those that I felt that I needed them to know that I have it. I spoke with my local church, everybody that I had it, so I didn’t have that stigma of people looking at me in a certain way stigma and saying, ‘He’s got it we need to stay away from him’, or what have you, no. That stigma, I didn’t feel those things. But it’s out there, people tend to be more silent and private and internalise those things. I’m not one of those kind of persons. I, I think that speaking out about it was important for me anyway. It bring, it brought awareness. It also brought people closer to me that reached out to me that probably would not have done that before…

 

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

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

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So one thing I’ve realised in the community, is people have a fear and they’re really worried about telling people they’ve had Covid so people were hiding the fact that they had Covid because they didn’t want to be the ones that the ones that were passing it onto other people. So the thing with me is I’m a very open person, so I openly said, “I have got Covid. I will not be into work. I have to make sure I am taking full precautions and my whole family has got Covid as a result as well.” Now a lot of people had Covid but they did not disclose that to the community and nor did they tell people. It’s only once I had had discussions with them that they had said, “We had Covid last month and we couldn’t do anything.” And so sharing the story made people open up and talk about their experiences with Covid.

 

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.

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.

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I might have mentioned it on Facebook, yeah, I did, I did because I thought there’s a lot of people who are not taking this seriously so I’m saying, “Look, you know, for all those who don’t believe Covid’s real, I can testify it’s very real.” And then a lot of people sent me message and a lot of people said, “If you need anything-” so as a community, you know, I think that’s probably what’s helped us get through it, you know, because we, we were in trouble, people looked out and helped others, you know.

 

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.

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

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Everyone was very nice about it because so many people who, with it, you know, everyone knows someone that’s had it I think and also if they know someone who’s had it, they know it’s not like a joke. We’ve suffered for it so and I think so everyone was very sympathetic.

 

Dorte felt embarrassed to tell people at first but received very empathetic and understanding responses.

Dorte felt embarrassed to tell people at first but received very empathetic and understanding responses.

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Initially, I was hugely embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell people. I thought, it’s a dirty word and it’s not one to be bandied about. And then actually I changed my mind about it because the reception I had from those people that I did tell was, you know, one of full empathy, sympathy and understanding. I think maybe because of the way I got it or I felt I got it.

 

Sarita received very understanding responses when she told people she’d been in contact with that she had Covid.

Sarita received very understanding responses when she told people she’d been in contact with that she had Covid.

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I don’t know why I felt guilty you know the fact that I was letting the wee girl’s mum know about it but she was being, she was being so understanding about it. She said don’t worry about it at all. I guess also due to the fact you know that the wee girl’s grand mum is a nurse so she understands, you know it can catch you from anywhere.


 
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.
 
 

Emma noticed that people visited her less after she had Covid. She thinks it is because they were frightened.

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Emma noticed that people visited her less after she had Covid. She thinks it is because they were frightened.

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Well, it’s funny, you know, because it really depends on people’s view and position on this stuff because some people think that, you know, it’s just a bad flu and people are making a bit of a fuss about it, but other people, I really think the vast majority, are really scared and so folks that used to come by, just don’t come, they hardly ring, and you can’t get it through the phone, I assure you. Folks are really frightened. And it bothers me that people are so frightened, yeah it bothers me, but what can you do? You can’t make people become rational, not when they’ve been pumped full of fear.

 

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

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

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I’d been isolating for almost three, well I’d had the virus almost over three weeks, and , there was a, an event in, where I live and I wanted to watch a swim and I I knew my friend was going. I said “Oh, can I, shall I meet you there?” And she was like, “I don’t want to meet you”, she said, “you’re still coughing”. And I said, “But I, I’ve had it weeks now I’m allowed out.” No she just wouldn’t, she just wouldn’t. And that, I cried.

 

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

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

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She messaged me, she said you know Sarita I am glad to know you are feeling better but rather than starting you know this next week we’ll wait a week more just to make sure and I said to her I don’t quite like the tone of the text because she said just to make sure the virus has left your house. and I said what does that mean? I mean how, it doesn’t make sense [laughs]. So I told her, I said look I am not going to take another test. I said because, I said I don’t know if you are aware or not but the virus can stay in my body for as long as 90 days without it being infectious after my 10 days infectious period is over so there is still a chance if I can take a PCR test my test will come back as positive even though I am no longer infectious.

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