How to Tell Someone You Have COVID: 5 Tips to Follow

It's not an easy conversation. But it's easier if you follow these guidelines.

illustrated man and woman stand in fear
Joy Velasco for Fatherly

COVID is a threat you recognize and take seriously. You mask up. You socially distance. You sanitize. So does your family. And so does your pod, if you have one. But somehow, some way, you or someone in your family tested positive for the virus. As the self-interrogation begins — Did it happen the day I had to reposition my mask in the grocery store? Or maybe the afternoon I forgot to sanitize immediately after leaving the park because one of the kids was having a meltdown? — another difficult task comes about: telling friends and family you may have given it to them. How do you tell someone “I have COVID. You might have it, too.”?

The last thing anyone wants is to be responsible for someone else’s illness. But it can certainly happen even if protocols are followed. If there’s the chance that you have given coronavirus to someone, you have to let them know. Will the conversation be difficult? Yes. It could lead to any number of reactions, from understanding to unabashed anger. And you will likely feel guilty. But there is a script to follow to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. Here are some tips to get you started.

How to Tell Someone You Have Coronavirus

Before you say anything to friends or family about possible infections, you might need to psych yourself up. If you’re nervous, think about the probable reason why: It’s because this person matters to you. That thought can help, as well as remembering that you’re offering this information so that he or she can take care of themselves and their family, says Alice Connors-Kellgren, clinical psychologist at Tufts Medical Center.

But even if the person wasn’t special, it’s still the right thing to do. “It’s the way we get ourselves to do everything as an adult,” says Tonya Lester, a therapist in Brooklyn, New York.

It also helps to realize that it might not be an easy conversation, but, even if it goes horribly, it will be done and you won’t have it hanging over you any longer.

1. Prepare Them For The News

Lester likes to start a hard conversation with a preparatory, “I have something serious to tell you.” It gives the person a heads-up to really listen. Connors-Kellgren adds that the line might do more for you since you’re announcing big news. The other person is expecting it, so you’re on the hook and you need to deliver.

2. Be Direct

After that, stick to the facts, Connors-Kellgren says. You might have received instructions with your result on whom to notify. Fall back on that and say, “I had some symptoms. I got tested. It came back positive and I need to let others know,” followed with, “I’m so deeply sorry I put you and your family in this position.”

3. Don’t Ramble

Once you’ve said the above and offered an apology, stop talking. Most importantly, stop apologizing. When you go on too much, it can make it worse. “It puts a huge burden on them,” Connors-Kellgren says. It becomes about your feelings, when this is about the other person coming to grips with the news. Getting in the way of that process is akin to you saying, “Don’t be mad at me.”

4, Accept the Discomfort

The person with whom you’ve shared the news gets to be mad, sad, frustrated, anything. You need to accept that that’s part of the conversation, and it’s not for the other person to make you feel better. It might be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but it’s not on your timeline. ‘We have all survived someone being angry at us,” Connors-Kellgren says.

5. Check in on Them

A week later, check back in and ask, “How are you doing? What were the results?” It shows that you care and it’s for the person, not your feelings. If the result was positive, you can offer support, advice or send groceries over, since you know what the person is going through and what can help. It might not be accepted, but it’s something pro-active to do rather than sit and beat yourself up.

Managing Your Guilt

While you might have had no idea that you were infected, you still have a sense of guilt for what happened.

“It’s a normal thing to feel badly if you were involved in anything that hurt someone else,” says Lester.

Guilt in this situation is unavoidable. It’s also a very difficult emotion because, as Connors-Kellgren says, “it’s about something that’s already happened.”

It’s important to remind yourself that you were not being reckless, but acting on what you knew, which is that you didn’t have COVID. “You’re making decisions based on that information and you can’t go back and change it,” she says.

Talking to supportive people can help – just saying the words out loud can take away some of their sting. Writing them down does that as well. Research done in 1988 by James Pennebaker showed that writing about trauma over the course of days led to more positive moods. Lester says one way is to reframe your feelings on paper. I’m such an idiot for seeing my friends becomes I had no idea and I was trying to be responsible like everyone else there.

After that, comes down to realizing that your feelings of guilt also have to run their course. “You probably will feel badly because we’re empathetic people,” says Lester, adding that time is often the only antidote, as, “Difficult emotions typically have a half-life.”