Some recovered COVID-19 patients say they feel 'ashamed' and misunderstood after diagnosis

WATCH: The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday that there's currently “no evidence” that people who have recovered from COVID-19, and have antibodies as a result of infection, are protected from a second coronavirus infection.

Months after they’ve been cleared as recovered coronavirus patients, some Canadians say others are misinformed about their condition — and they’re being treated differently as a result.

Global News spoke to Canadians who recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, since being diagnosed in March, and while most say close friends and family are understanding, others behave as if they are still infected.

Currently, there are over 52,000 people in Canada who have been deemed recovered from the coronavirus, meaning they are no longer infectious. That’s more than half of the over 94,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the country.

If I tested positive for the coronavirus, when can I see others again?

Those who have symptoms of the coronavirus, including a cough, fever and shortness of breath, are told to stay home and are required to self-isolate for at least 14 days starting from when they begin to feel sick.

Travellers are also required to isolate when returning to Canada to prevent the spread of the virus, and the same is required for those who go between some provinces.

The risk of an individual being infectious declines and is “likely negligible” after 14 days, Dr. Nick Daneman, a scientist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, previously told Global News.

When it comes to the infectious period of the disease, Health Canada says it’s assumed to be about 10 days after the onset of symptoms the illness, if the patient has a mild case and isn’t in hospital.

Two negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart can be used to determine the end of the period where a person may still be infectious, according to Health Canada.

Emily Peck, 25, who tested positive for COVID-19 near the end of March and now has been counted as recovered, says that while close friends and family members have been supportive, the demeanour of some strangers shifts when they find out she had the virus.

Peck lives with her boyfriend Justin Alexanderson, 29, who also tested positive. They both told Global News in a previous report that they believed they were infected after a night out on March 14.

“I think what we’ve noticed is strangers… if we spoke about it (COVID-19) on the street or we went into a store and say we had gotten it a couple of weeks ago and gotten over it, immediately their behaviour kind of changes,” she said.

“They step back.”

Alexanderson and Peck have been social distancing and were not close to anyone when they expressed that they tested positive more than two months ago, she said. Both are fully recovered and have no symptoms, but the stigma remains.

“Now we resort to not saying anything at all,” she said. “We kind of lie and say we’ve been fine because we’ve noticed people treat us a little bit differently if we’ve said something.”

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Peck says the fearful reaction from others when they heard she had the virus not only makes her feel uncomfortable, it makes her feel “ashamed.”

“People start to treat you differently once they know you’ve had it,” she said.

“It makes me feel a bit embarrassed and I know I shouldn’t feel that way because there’s thousands of others who are going through this.”

With so many Canadians who have recovered from the illness, Peck says it should be more normalized so people like her can speak out about their experiences.

Justin Alexanderson and Emily Peck recovered from COVID-19. Photo provided by Justin Alexanderson.

“I understand people need to take their precautions and feel safe,” she said, adding that she would prefer if others ask questions and learn about how likely it is that someone is infectious weeks after they have recovered.

“People just need to ask more questions and be a little more understanding about what people are going through.”

‘I don’t want to get too close’

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee started to come down with symptoms of the new coronavirus including a fever, cough and chest pain after travelling to the U.S. to speak at an Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers conference.

Arriving back in B.C. on March 15, Lee, 34, began isolating for 14 days since she had been travelling. After two days, she started to feel sick.

“I started getting a really dry cough, I had a fever, I had shortness of breath. It got so bad that I couldn’t even lie down in my bed without being unable to breath,” she said.

“I was waking up multiple times, gasping for air.”

She also lost her sense of taste and smell.

A doctor told her via a telemedicine video call that she likely had COVID-19, but tests weren’t easily available at the time due to her age and the fact she wasn’t likely at risk for hospitalization, she said.

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It took 19 days for her symptoms to go away completely, and Lee says she started to see improvements eight days after the onset of the illness. Still, she had a fever for almost 19 days straight, she said.

A month and a half after she was told she had COVID-19, Lee tested negative for the virus and felt fine, she said.

In her neighbourhood, everyone was friendly and brought her groceries while she was sick. Now, however, they do move out of her way when she goes to walk her dog.

“They say: ‘I don’t want to get too close,'” she said.

But Lee says other people, however, believe that she’s now immune and that she doesn’t have to social distance anymore.

There is no evidence that someone who has had COVID-19 in the past and recovered can never get it again, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The organization recommends that those who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to social distance and follow public health advice.

Despite the lack of evidence, Lee says her family feels they shouldn’t have to distance themselves from her now that she’s already had the virus — even though she doesn’t agree.

Tested negative, but symptoms persist

Despite being told by doctors that she is no longer infectious following her COVID-19 diagnosis at the end of March, Jill King 49, is still having trouble breathing.

Global News interviewed Burlington, Ont.-based King previously, when she said she likely was infected during a trip to Florida in the second week of March.

Jill King recovered from COVID-19 but still has symptoms. Photo provided by Jill King.

King has an upcoming appointment with a respirologist so they can address why she continues to have chest pains and shortness of breath nearly three months after she first became sick.

Even if King is still feeling unwell, it would be unusual for someone who tested positive months ago to still be infectious to others, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, previously told Global News.

Should you be tested for coronavirus if you don’t have symptoms?

In fact, King tested negative for COVID-19 two weeks ago, which was a relief, she said.

King’s family has come to visit her in her backyard recently, distanced 10 feet apart. Even though she is negative for the virus, some people in her building still seem wary of her presence, she said.

“You can see the look on their face sometimes, it’s like, ‘oh god,’ and they step away a bit,” she said. “But other than that, it’s been good.”

While she knows that she’s no longer contagious, she is continuing to ensure that she distances from others as she’s not feeling confident enough to be out in public too often, she said.

King says she feels lucky that friends and family don’t view her differently after her diagnosis, and she doesn’t think they’d be afraid to see her if physical distancing restrictions are loosened in the future.

“At some point we have to get back to some kind of semblance of normalcy, although I don’t think it’s ever going to be fully ‘normal’ again,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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