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After spending 28 long and frightful days, in self-quarantine battling COVID, upon her return to her workplace on May 18, Ria—the only name Guardian Media was permitted to use—continues to experience open scorn from a colleague who believes she could still infect him.

The stigmatising has brought emotional and mental distress to the mother of three as she said her workplace was now a difficult place to go.

“He does not want to touch anything that I touch. He does not want to stand where I stood. He would make circles around me to avoid passing close to me. Not even my bag, he would want to touch him,” Ria expressed.

The 46-year-old, who works in business management, said although she has had the support of her managers and others at the workplace, it remained challenging with the particular colleague as they both work close and directly with each other.

Ria said she tried to place herself in her colleague’s shoes to understand what he might be experiencing, his actions became overbearing.

“I was actually… at first, I understood how he may feel, but then it hurt my feelings. It made me uncomfortable. It destroyed our relationship forever. We’re not going to get that back ever,” swore Ria.

Before contracting the virus, Ria said she and her colleague had a great relationship.

She said not only was he directing disdain upon her, but he was also spreading misinformation throughout the office, claiming that his doctor informed him to stay clear of her as she could still transfer the virus.

Ria said the company’s managers and even the health and safety officials have tried on numerous occasions to educate her colleague on the issue to help him understand he was not at risk, but he has continually rejected the information.

“To openly scorn somebody is one thing, but allowing yourself not to be properly educated can destroy relationships and destroy someone’s sanity,” Ria noted.

She said she was hoping the powers that be would begin to do more education advertising and promotions that would help the population to understand the virus better.

“I asked a friend who works in advertising if they can do something like having a television ad. We have the ads running and we tell people to get vaccinated. But I don’t see any ads that are actually giving you information from the point of being tested positive to recovery and thereafter and what to expect in that time frame,” said Ria.

Guardian Media contacted a doctor to help debunk the myth of spreading the virus even after recovery.

In a WhatsApp interview, urologist and former health minister Dr Fuad Khan said when someone has been a patient of COVID-19 where they would have been infected and recovered they are to be considered the safest people to be around as they have developed a strength of antibody protection that was not seen in those who were not infected.

“So when a patient has recovered from COVID-19 and the have gone out to work, they cannot infect anybody,” Khan stressed.

He added, “That stigma or discrimination of COVID has to be released. In fact as I have said before, they are one of the safest people to be around because if the COVID virus enters their respiratory tract, their antibodies will kill that virus with rapid ease.”

He reiterated, once a patient recovered they could not transmit the virus to anyone.

Back story

Ria was informed on April 12, that she was exposed to the virus. She said being asymptomatic she was unaware she had contracted the virus.

Tests done on April 14, on all the people in her household, inclusive of her children, nieces, nephews, and her siblings, returned on April 16 confirming both her and her older sister alone were COVID-19 positive.

For the 28 days that the entire family had to remain in quarantine, Ria said a stringent regime had to be exercised daily which included everyone wearing masks at all times while sanitising was done at “ridiculous” levels to avoid transmission as all amenities in the household were shared.

She said both she and her sister remained isolated in the house as much as possible and checks by health officials were made frequently.

We had about three different doctors from the Ministry of health contacting us every day.”

They called every day for the first two weeks and then they would call every other day. But you can tell they tried to keep in contact with us every day. They did an excellent job in that regard,” Ria disclosed.

The west Trinidad resident said finding out she was COVID-19 positive sent her into panic mode.

“My heart was racing, it was a terrible feeling really. I mean you take it as a death sentence because you just don’t know how your body is going to react to it,” she explained.

Ria, who is hypertensive, said there were times when her oxygen levels would drop and she would experience shortness of breath and headaches.

When this would happen, a masked Ria would run outdoors and find a corner to remove the mask just to be able to breathe.

Ria said considering the many COVID-19 related deaths recently, she felt lucky to be alive to tell her story.