Testing positive for COVID-19 can be an overwhelming experience. For some, it might be a relief to know what’s really going on with their health. For others, a positive test may trigger a lot of anxiety. No matter what, their reaction is likely to be a mix of thoughts and emotions.
No matter what the emotions are, it can very much feel like uncharted territory for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for kindness and compassion. Your loved one may be scared, or may just be tired and needing to rest to battle the virus.
Regardless, please remember that your kindness and love are a vital part of your loved one’s recovery. If you’re struggling for something thoughtful to say to someone who tests positive for COVID-19, start here. You may feel like there is no perfect thing to say, but perhaps these can jog your brain.
1. Just Say Something
Get a conversation started by saying something, anything. Just start the conversation and tell your loved one that you care, because that’s what you want to say and that is likely what they would like to hear. It doesn't matter if you feel awkward or uncertain.
A person dealing with a lot of uncertainty just wants to find some solid ground. Try to help out your loved one and cut through some of that fear surrounding their diagnosis. Just reaching out may be exactly what they need from you.
Be genuine in your outreach. Don't worry about stumbling over your words. Let them start telling their story to you and the rest of your conversation will flow naturally.
2. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Your loved one may or may not be ready to talk about their diagnosis. A COVID-19 diagnosis may come with some publicity, depending on how they contracted it. They may or may not have their age, location, and whereabouts reported.
By asking this question first, you give your loved one control. They can decide whether they want to talk to you or if they'd rather wait. It’s completely up to them to figure out how much they want to share, or if they just don’t have much to share as they are dealing with the sickness. Your loved one may very well open up to you. Stating your respect for their privacy and personal space is valuable no matter their answer.
3. “What has your doctor told you?”
There can be quite a bit of misinformation mixed in with reliable facts, but these can be hard to separate. Even information from good sources can be conflicting, incomplete, and worrisome.
This question keeps the focus on the specific directions they were given. Everyone with this diagnosis should be cautious and aware. However, you can help your loved one stay calm by talking about just their situation instead of the worst possible cases reported in the news.
4. “Let me run some errands for you this week.”
Instead of saying, "how can I help?" this could be a bit more direct. “How can I help” It may sound helpful, but the question is far too broad. A person dealing with a health crisis like COVID-19 is probably overwhelmed and may not know how to answer.
Instead, help them focus on one area of need - errands. Social distancing and required quarantines can definitely make errands a challenge. Be specific. Ask about picking up medications, groceries, or even takeout food orders. This keeps the request practical and focused on their needs. Your loved one will be relieved to get help with these tasks.
5. “I’ll bring some meals to you. Do you want chicken or beef?”
Like the statement above, this offer is specific. You assume that family life for your loved one has been changed a lot since their diagnosis. Your offer meets a need without them having to ask or describe the problem. All they have to do is decide what kinds of meals they’d like.
Organize a few friends and family members to help you get meals made or bought. Arrange time slots so your loved one and their family are covered for a few weeks at a time. This effort will ease your loved one’s mind and help them focus on their recovery as well as maintaining their quarantine.
6. “You don't have to talk or reply if you aren't up to it.”
Being diagnosed with COVID-19 can draw unwanted attention. Your loved one may feel pressured to answer questions about where they’ve been, how they’re feeling, and who they’ve been around. They may feel embarrassed, worried, tired, and genuinely unwell.
Show your concern while also giving your loved one an easy way to say no. This helps by assuring them they don’t have to follow a social rule if they don’t want to. They’ll appreciate being let off the hook for a reply.
7. “If you want to vent, I'm all ears”
Quarantines and social distancing can be tough on everyone, especially with the spread and scale of diagnoses of cases. Testing positive for COVID-19 only adds more stress to what can feel like an untenable situation.
Offer your loved one a way to blow off some steam. Tell them to vent and let their frustrations out. You are there to listen to them no matter what they say. It’s a no-judgment zone. There are no easy answers right now, so don’t feel like you need to solve this problem. Just listen and let them vent.
8. “I'm not sure what to say, but I care about you.”
No doubt, it’s easy to get tongue-tied. What do you say about a disruptive and worrisome situation like the coronavirus pandemic? And when it affects someone you care about, you just want to say the right thing.
Rest assured that there may be no perfect thing to say right now. Go ahead and say that to your loved one. It’s OK to admit you are uncertain. They just want to feel connected to their friends and family. Simply let them know they can talk, text, or message you any time.
9. “Would you like to hear about what my family is up to?”
Distraction is a great way to cope with anxiety and stress. Telling your loved one about your family, or literally anything else can provide a much-needed change of topic. COVID-19 can cause widespread anxiety, and social media and news reports can make it worse.
For a person diagnosed with the coronavirus, it's about more than just being sick. The unknowns about this illness can be worrisome. Your loved one will likely be happy to hear about something besides themselves.
10. “I'll let you rest.”
A sick person doesn't always want to talk about their illness, as mentioned above. Give your loved one an easy way to step out of the conversation. They also do need rest, so it's a natural thing to say.
If they do want to continue talking, they'll tell you it's OK. Give them the space to choose. You'll know if they really need the connection or the rest more. This message helps because your concern is genuine. No matter what their response, you give them support and a choice. You can even go the extra mile and send them a care package, something cozy, or another get-well gift after your conversation to help them feel comfortable as they rest.
11. “How are your symptoms?”
Say this with genuine concern, but not alarm. Unfortunately, the usual “get well” wishes may not quite work with the coronavirus. Many people are experiencing anxiety with the range of symptoms and uncertainty.
Show your concern while staying calm. If your loved one has symptoms that concern you, have a longer conversation about it. If they are supposed to monitor symptoms, offer to help them keep track. Above all, keep a calm reassuring tone when talking about symptoms.
12. “I love you/care about you, we'll get through it together”
A straightforward message works no matter what the situation. It's hard to know what to say during strange times like this. You don't want to alarm your loved one, but you want them to know that you care.
This cuts right to the heart of your relationship. You don't have to promise anything or try to be a medical expert. With all the uncertainty of the COVID-19, comfort is what people really want. Sharing a sense of unity when someone feels ill can provide some much-needed reassurance to your loved one and can make a huge difference.
Helping Someone With a Positive COVID-19 Test
Being sick isn’t fun, and it’s more stressful than ever with the confusion and rate of proliferation of COVID-19.
Your compassion can make a difference for a loved one with this diagnosis. Worry less about saying the wrong thing. Instead, reach out and start the conversation any way you can. Ultimately, they just need to know you care.
If you're looking for more on how to support loved ones during the pandemic, read our guide on dealing with loss and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one who lost their battle with COVID, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.