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Garth Rattray | COVID by any other name is still COVID

Published:Monday | January 24, 2022 | 12:05 AM

More and more, I’ve been noticing a very disturbing and potentially dangerous trend; many people are living in denial of COVID-19. Only a few days ago, my wife went to a popular jewellery store on the Constant Spring Road shopping strip. She selected and paid for an item. After the purchase, she turned to look at a glass case with other items that had previously caught her eye. To her horror, sitting directly behind that display case was a store worker with her mask below her chin, eyes red, face flushed and blowing her nose.

Bad enough that the store was sealed, and air-conditioned, with no HEPA filter air purifier anywhere in sight, but customers and other staff were there with an obviously sick staff member interacting with others. My wife exited the store post-haste and considered herself (possibly) exposed to COVID-19. When she telephoned the store the following day, the store manager informed her that the worker had not come into work (the day my wife called). By now, everyone must certainly know that COVID-19, and the Omicron strain in particular, mimics the common cold and flu but can be much more dangerous. Yet, this busy jewellery store had an infectious worker interacting with customers.

At this point, the usual naysayers, anti-everything posse and nasty trolls will raise a hue and cry, claiming that the worker probably only had the flu or a common cold, and that I am wrong to extrapolate that she (very possibly) had COVID-19. Their kind of warped reasoning is akin to someone hearing explosions and taking no action because they are assuming that a car is backfiring.

A common self-diagnosis that I encounter is ‘sinusitis’. Many patients experience stuffy nostrils or runny nostrils, post-nasal drainage, itchy or painful throat and perhaps a dry cough, and they tell me that they want ‘sinus medicine’. My suggestion that, in this day and age, the condition is likely to be COVID-19 is usually met with, “No! No! No! No doc! Is mi sinuses!” With a lot of coaxing and explaining, some may reconsider and get tested, isolate, and begin home care until the result reveals the diagnosis. Most of the time, the condition turns out to be COVID-19. However, even if the test(s) return negative for COVID-19, it is wise to remain isolated and avoid contact with others, because the tests are sometimes falsely negative.


Another very common self-diagnosis is ‘a bad flu’. This sometimes applies to entire families. Someone will tell me that their grandchild caught a bad flu out in the ‘night air’ and gave it to his/her mother, who gave it to so-and-so and so-and-so, and that’s how they came to get the ‘bad flu’. When I ask if anyone considered the possibility that this ‘bad flu’ could actually be COVID-19, eyes widen, throats gulp, and then they look bewildered and worried. It’s as if the possibility of COVID-19 never crossed their minds.

Getting COVID-19 has a taboo element to it. People are sometimes embarrassed when others know that they have it or had it. COVID-19 is not an STI (sexually transmitted infection), but it is another kind of STI, it’s a socially transmitted infection. Perhaps it’s because the condition necessitates isolation, invoking the negative attitudes towards lepers. Consequently, terms like ‘di ting’ (the thing) are used to describe the COVID-19 infection. Using the term takes the sting out of it and allows some ambiguity… wriggle room, if you get my meaning. Many people just do not want to own the disease; and that is only empowering it.

People find all kinds of excuses for their (COVID-19) symptoms. I’ve heard that they got sick from dust, cleaning the cupboard, getting wet in the rain, damp air, night air, mould, a draft, allergies and sinusitis. However, as they say, common things are common and, currently, a very common respiratory condition is COVID-19. The increased percentage positivity rate is a good indicator of the prevalence of the infection and tells us what to expect regarding hospitalisations and fatalities. But, two things should be kept in mind. The percentage positivity rate is calculated by the number of tests recorded. If enough testing is not being done, the percentage positivity rate will be deceptively low.

Additionally, even under the best circumstances, the number of untested but positive individuals is usually much higher than the tested and positive individuals. In other words, if the percentage positivity rate is 68.6 (as it was on Thursday, January 13, 2022), you can bet that far more citizens are infected than the number reflected by the documented rate.

The true indication of how dangerous a pandemic is lies in the hospitalisation and fatality statistics. Although the Omicron variant is far more infectious, it is hoped that it will prove less dangerous and result in lower hospitalisations and fatalities.

When it comes to COVID-19, it is sensible to own it, give it the respect it deserves, assume that flu-like and/or gastrointestinal symptoms are due to COVID-19, protect others, quarantine, get tested, get treated, and isolate if necessary. We need to protect ourselves, our families, relatives, communities and country by reducing our risk of infection and spread with properly fitting masks, distancing, sanitising and vaccinations.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and