COVID disclosure is a two-way street

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Added: Wed, 03/10/2021 - 1:25pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor
editor@journalpontiac.com

The second wave appears to be nearing the tail end, but health authorities warn it’s not over. Social distancing, mask wearing, limiting contacts, and frequent hand washing remain pivotal, as does watching for symptoms and seeking testing. But what’s done after a positive diagnosis is just as important to prevent transmission. 
Obviously, adhering to quarantine obligations is a must, but disclosure and contact tracing are key. Confidentiality is required – it’s a legal right and obligation of those who have information entrusted to them – and health authorities try to protect the identity of individuals while notifying the public of increases in numbers and possible contact with confirmed cases.
Privacy is the right of an individual to determine when, how and the amount of information they share about themselves. The health system can’t publically announce the names, workplace or other details of COVID sufferers and it’s not the public’s place to share them either. But is there a moral obligation – a duty one owes to others, which they should perform, but are not legally required to – surrounding personal disclosure?
Health authorities do their best to trace contacts, but it can be difficult for victims to remember everyone they’ve come into contact with for tracing to be thorough. It becomes especially difficult when an employee of a business with a lot of traffic – pharmacy, grocery store, or restaurant, for example – tests positive.
Although not legally required, self-disclosure, especially for businesses, could go a long way in protecting communities by alerting those who’ve been missed; if
someone knows they’re at risk, they can seek testing or self-quarantine so they don’t unknowingly spread it to others.
This type of disclosure isn’t unheard of: the Pontiac’s first confirmed case used social media to alert the community and recently an Arnprior bar publicly announced that an unnamed employee tested positive. For businesses, COVID transparency not only promotes community wellbeing, but allows them to describe what measures they’ve taken so customers feel safe returning. In small areas where word travels quickly, silence can negatively affect a business’ image and customer base.
But for open self-disclosure to increase, we need to create a safe, supportive and
compassionate environment that’s free of stigma and shaming. According to an August 2020 survey published in the Journal of Health Psychology, 64% of COVID sufferers reported some level of concealment (e.g. the need to quarantine, having symptoms, etc.), partially out of fear of stigma. Education, increasing awareness of what stigma is and prompting people to think about whether they hold stigmatizing beliefs has effectively reduced stigma in other areas: mental health and AIDS, for example.    
There’s still a long road before the virus is behind us. Until then, following public health guidelines and pursuing good contact tracing are our best defenses. Open disclosure protects everyone and can save lives, but this starts with all of us and the attitudes and beliefs we hold and spread. Remember, it’s a two-way street.