Guest column: Catalina sees best, worst of individuals in a stressful situation

The Catalina Island Medical Center. File photo

Dear Ava­lon residents and visitors,

As CEO of Catalina Island Medi­cal Center, COVID-19 has consumed my thoughts for the past several months. It is an extremely interesting and scary time in our lives as we learn more about the pandemic we are undergoing. In my experience, we see the best and worst of individuals when in stressful situations. We are seeing both on Catalina at this point. At this time, I would like to share some of my thoughts and feelings with you.

“Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 related stigma and discrimination is impacting the lives of people living with on Catalina. COVID-19 related stigma and discrimination occurs throughout the world. However, they manifest differently and in varying degrees in different locations.

“Stigma associated with COVID-19 and the resulting discrimination on can be as devastating as the illness itself. Furthermore, the spread of COVID-19 can be directed attributed to COVID-19-related stigma and discrimination.

“COVID-19-related stigma refers to the negative beliefs, feelings and attitudes towards people living with COVID-19 or the fear of catching COVID-19.

“Today, with the benefit of scientific advances, we know that COVID-19 is easy to transmit. However, fear of infection remains a leading trigger. The fact is that COVID-19 does not discriminate. Social judgments are rising in our community that may link people to COVID-19. For example, (persons of Asian descent, people who have traveled, emergency responders or healthcare professionals and perceived knowledge of proper infection control.)

“Stigma can reduce self-esteem, self-worth and can lead to increased depression, and suicidal thoughts. Many people living with COVID-19 experience high levels of internalized stigma, manifesting as shame, guilt and self-loathing.

“Stigma and discrimination have profound implications for COVID-19 prevention, treatment, care and support. Stigma and discrimination can prevent people from coming forward for COVID-19 testing. This fear also discourages people living with COVID-19 from disclosing their status, even to family members.

“Related stigma and discrimination stand in the way of COVID-19 prevention. They lead people to be afraid to seek out information on about how to reduce their exposure to COVID-19, and to adopt safer behavior in case this raises suspicion about their COVID-19 status.

“Already marginalized populations, including immigrants, can be excluded from targeted COVID-19 related education and healthcare. This results in limited access to essential COVID-19 prevention information.

“Those living with or fear they may have COVID-19 are concerned about confidentiality of medical information and the very real possibility that health care providers will reveal their COVID-19 status to others without their consent, due to public’s persistent desire to identify individuals

“Stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination do not apply to all people living with COVID-19 equally. COVID-19-related stigma and discrimination intersect with other pre-existing stigmas including discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, immigration status, income, and stigmas associated with behaviors and activities. Already marginalized groups tend to experience the most severe forms of stigma and discrimination.

“Stigma may lead immigrants to deal with COVID-19 in silence and secrecy. Social support is often limited, and immigrants may fear becoming isolated from their social community if their COVID-19 status is revealed. As a result, they may not make use of needed healthcare.

“Furthermore, stigma undermines public health efforts to address COVID-19. It discourages COVID-19 testing and encourages denial and unsafe behaviors. Those with COVID-19 may not want to get tested or disclose their status because of fear that this information might be used against them in the future (for example, in the form of threats, false allegations and social media). Stigma also leads to a reduced willingness to access COVID-19 services. Trust between the individual and the health care worker is eroded and those with COVID-19 may be reluctant to honestly communicate with health care providers.”

(The above is an article the that was written regarding HIV (Source: Fueling_the_Epidemic_HIV-Related_SBgma_and_DiscriminaBon_Info_Sheet_EN.pdf). Sadly, it took less than five minutes to make it pertinent to COVID-19).

This is a wonderful community and we should fit the disease, not stereotypical stigmas.

As a community, we need to work together to find balance between health and our human need for social connection. We need to understand this infection and the facts that surround it.

  1. Diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity.
  2. For most people, the immediate risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low.
  3. Someone who has completed quarantine or has been released from isolation does not pose a risk of infection to other people when using proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
  4. There are simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy.
  5. Experts estimate it could take between 12-18 months to develop a vaccine ready for market.

Our community has had a relatively small number of cases, a fact that deserves recognition and perhaps be applauded. We should also recognize that our goal of “bending the curve” has been more than achieved, almost to the point of being crushed. Nevertheless, I realize this is much like a double-edged sword. As a healthcare professional, it concerns me that the lack of COVID-19 transmission in our community can ultimately turn Avalon into future a COVID-19 hotspot as our economy begins to reopen.

The potential loss of jobs and its impact on the finances of our city government threaten our ability to pay for first responders and other critical services. Most of us already realize that the future of the hospital remains coupled to the strength of our economy.

Most businesses, as well as the city, generate most of their revenue in the summer in order to survive through the slow period of winter. Frankly, many island entities simply do not have the ability to sustain “stay at home orders” for a 12 to 18-month period.

We all must wait for a vaccine, but we need to find ways to be practical as well as being safe. We need to collectively find a way to transition from stay-at-home to safer-at-home while we wait.

We must also end the stigma of COVID-19 in our community. The slander and accusations on Facebook and Instagram must end. Catalina is known as a friendly community so even under difficult circumstances, we must learn to practice what we preach.

Our visitors will undoubtedly remember how our community treated them during this difficult time. Those visitors who leave unsatisfied may choose to visit another community, one that, they believe, was more welcoming.

At some point in the near future, deferred rents and mortgage payments will cease and will become liabilities for all of us to pay.

Unemployment checks and federal subsidies, at some point, will end as well.

COVID-19 has saturated our nation. It is in every state. It will undoubtedly become a visitor to Catalina in the future.

Let us, however, not live in fear. We must respect our neighbors and visitors. COVID-19 is impacting all of us in different manners.

We are not all the same. Whether it be race, religious beliefs, cultural upbringing, financial status, mental health needs, ect. … and we are bound by a shared humanity.

Therefore, we should also work to ensure that our path forward includes a healthy balance between safety and survival.

This island has endured so much that I believe it will conquer this crisis as well. To do so, however, we must find pathways of understanding to keep our community healthy while preserving our safety.

We can find a way to responsibly, and gradually, reopen our economy. One thing is certain. The actions and behaviors we exhibit now will echo for generations to come.