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Offering Support and Compassion for a COVID19 Positive Colleague

By Air Force Tech Sgt. Krista Rehmert, CADC
Aug. 17, 2020

woman standing outside of a house door with groceries at the door.U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman Jason W. Cochran

My colleague has COVID-19, how do I support him or her when I can’t be in close contact?

Across the world, nobody is immune from the impact of COVID-19. Whether you’ve witnessed the effects from afar or they’ve hit closer to home, the pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. The physical, mental, and financial strain has taken a toll on many, and following precautionary measures and guidelines can be especially challenging when a fellow service member or colleague is COVID-19 positive. If you or someone you know is struggling with this scenario, you may be asking yourself how you can be supportive and convey hope, understanding, and comfort to the individual, while still maintaining your physical distance. Consider these recommendations:

Stay connected and communicate with compassion

Today more than ever can we cannot forget the importance of and basic need for human connection. Communication is what binds us together and enhances our emotional well-being to attenuate the risks associated with isolation. Building and maintaining relationships during this difficult time strengthens bonds and brings us closer together. If a colleague is diagnosed with COVID-19, be transparent about your desire to maintain physical distance while being empathetic to their needs. Colleagues need to hear how much they are valued, and now more than ever, organizations need to prioritize and support their most valuable resource – the people responsible for executing the mission.

Exercise benevolence

Even though you cannot be by a colleague’s side, there are other ways you can provide support and practice acts of kindness. Sending a text, video chatting, or a phone call are simple ways to show your concern. If a colleague is COVID-19 positive, they are likely avoiding public spaces altogether. You can lessen the challenges associated with isolation by offering to do their grocery shopping with a porch drop off or via a delivery service. You could also surprise them with their favorite home cooked meal or have delivered. Get creative with your supportive gestures and remember that kindness is an essential tool for confronting anxiety and fear.

Educate and inform

Knowledge is empowering. Staying up to date on expert advice can help relieve your own anxiety about the virus and help you to accurately guide and inform others. Because COVID-related information can change rapidly, use reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC or your local public health department’s website. Members of the military community should bookmark the Military Health System Coronavirus website and the Defense Department Coronavirus spotlight page. By equipping yourself with accurate knowledge, you can make informed decisions to keep yourself and your family, friends, and colleagues healthy and safe.

Avoid churning the rumor mill

When you are made aware of a colleague testing positive for COVID-19, avoid engaging in gossip, and do your best to intervene and halt the spread of rumors. There is a humanistic element to this pandemic, and any discussions about someone who’s experiencing it deserves our calm and careful respect.

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to evolve, we must all do our part to reduce the spread and commit to a healthier environment for all. We can support one another by remaining flexible, being safe, encouraging and practicing self-care, and always being respectful and kind. These ingredients are key to supporting each other and the mission and are needed to thrive in these unpredictable times.

Tech Sgt. Rehmert is the mental health technician subject matter expert at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She is an Air Force mental health technician and certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor (CADC).

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