The degree of shame that comes with contracting Covid-19

Michael O'Reilly

Experts have suggested that people can feel guilt, shame and anxiety after testing positive for Covid-19. These emotions stem from the blame that the affected put on themselves for a situation which, at times, they had little or no control over. However, shame is inevitable in cases of irresponsibility and exploitation of government guidelines.

I have spent the last four weeks asking myself, my family and even Guards: What is an essential journey? Without a consistent response, I am left wondering if there is an answer free of personal bias.

For the most part, answers began with the guidelines set out on www.gov.ie, then quickly lead into uniquely justifiable caveats explaining how far one should deviate.

The blurred lines in what’s considered to be an essential journey has skewed my ability to understand why exactly I would feel guilt or shame for contracting the virus, and subsequently spreading it.

By no means is this a testament to Douglas MacArthur’s famous words, “Rules are mostly made to be broken”, but rather a question of: Why should one feel shame in contracting Covid if they can’t identify the wrongdoing they committed to catch it?

As someone who lives in Dublin’s suburbs, I am a short stroll away from a Supervalu, a pharmacy, a take-away café and a dentist.

The amenities in my area are sufficient, but if I decided to head into the city centre and buy vegan ingredients in a specialty shop (which is deemed essential under current guidelines) then subsequently contracted Covid on my journey in or out of the city, should I feel shame?

The answer is no. Shame is the emotional outcome of wrongdoing. There is no shame in contracting Covid-19 if you are going about your life following government guidelines and attempting to interpretate the rules’ cryptic characteristics realistically.

However, there would be shame in contracting the virus if you were one of the hundreds of people gathered on Dublin’s South William Street last Saturday night or indeed somewhere similar, doing similarly selfish things. If one of these blatantly ignorant rule breakers tested positive, there is no doubt they would feel shame, and so they should.

I called my grandmother on Monday. In a Covid-free world, I would meet her almost every Saturday morning on Grafton St for breakfast and a natter. This is something that hasn’t happened in months, instead we share a phone call every week or so, declaring how we miss our weekly catch-ups.

If those who graced South William St on Saturday nights with plastic cups and notions of immunity stayed at home, we could soon again meet on Saturday mornings.

But the control rule breakers have is astonishing. By choosing to booze up in large groups each weekend they are extending the wait that has been put on grandparents and grandchildren to see each other in controlled environments.

Subsequently, the potential eventuality of a positive test for rule breakers like these is one that should inflict guilt and
shame. Why? It’s the emotional outcome of wrongdoing.

Michael O’Reilly

Image credit: Annie Spratton Unsplash