These are just a few of the faces of COVID-19 in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. The faces of those who did not expect to become infected with a virus that is ravaging the entire world, paralyzed large cities and cast fear on the smallest of villages. These are the faces of COVID-19 warriors who are not just fighting a personal battle with the disease, but also a public stigma that has brought out the worse in some members of the community.
Since the inception of COVID-19 cases in Belize there has been a very negative stigma, hatred and bullying displayed towards those infected. It seems that ignorance played a very big part in the gossip and hate that was being displayed on social media. Some people even received death threats.
People were afraid of an invisible monster that was lurking in the air, afraid of getting sick; afraid of an immediate death sentence that was tagged with contracting the corona virus. But amidst the chaos and hatred displayed around the country, even in San Pedro, solidarity and compassion has prevailed within the past few days. The focus on being there for each other in our community is shining bright in San Pedro.
A catalyst to this show of compassion towards COVID-19 patients was Abner Dias, known as Dj Smallz, who came forth on his Facebook page announcing to all is followers that he had tested positive on Friday, August 7, 2020. The outpour of support and well-wishes flooded out on social media. He was praised for taking the courage and strength to overcome the shame casted on COVID-19 patients and warn people he may have come in contact with to watch out for symptoms of the disease or to go get tested.
The virus does not discriminate and the island community found that out shortly after Abner’s post. More members of the community followed suit and made public their positive status of Corona Virus infection. Those including Marisa Guerrero (wife, mother of three, Crossfit coach, and health enthusiast); Ever Zelaya (father and active member of the community); Janet Woollam (resort manager); Cianni Castañeda (nurse) and Dr. Giovani Solorzano (Medic/frontline worker).
“Let’s continue to set an example to the rest of the country by continuing to share positive comments and replies to those who are showing bravery through this outbreak and community spread. Let’s keep our comments filled with positivity vs what other districts are so shamefully displaying, even towards their own community!” - Joe Chung
“It's saddening to know how people here are filled with assumptions and are ready to spread rumors without getting the full story. I thank people who open up about their experience and I think is a great way to stop the stigma of COVID-19 and hopefully be better prepared as a community after this.” - Gian Rivero
To date there are 48 active COVID-19 cases in San Pedro, the epicenter of disease in the country that has 112 active cases. More cases are expected to pop up exponentially in the days to come. The identity of all those infected is not known; some know of others who are not going public with their positive status; and some will never be known. These few who have opened up to the public have expressed their desire to educate everyone in the community about the virus and what it does. Now the virus has a face - the face of a family member, friend or public figure who are sharing their experiences. Kudos to them; the community is coming together, understanding and learning what they should do to stay safe.
“I wanted to try to put an end to gossip, hate, bullying, and the stigma surrounding COVID-19 positive patients. I never expected such outpouring of love and prayers.” - Marisa Guerrero
The situation is still very scary in Belize, on the island of Ambergris Caye. We do not know what will happen beyond tomorrow. This second wave has prompted the government to postpone the opening of schools and the international airport, including the quarantining of Ambergris Caye and a few villages in the Orange Walk District. People are weary of their physical and mental health, whether they will have a job after the 14-day lockdown, how long their savings will last; will government aid be coming their way; what business will close down next (will all of them make it?).
One thing that is for sure is that no matter what the outcome of this pandemic is, the island community of Ambergris Caye is #SanPedroStrong. It is a statement being reiterated throughout the island as residents fight to battle the negative stigmas, hate, fears, bullying and overcome it with solidarity, support, compassion and love. We wish all those affected by the Corona Virus a speedy recovery.
Don’t be Selfish - Wear Your Masks, Practice Good Hygiene and Social Distancing, Stay Home as Much As Possible. Together we can fight this. God Bless!