Princess Diana Shattered the AIDS Stigma Worldwide with a Single Photo: Our President Needs to do the Same With COVID-19

By Laura Richards

Princess Diana of Wales, smiles, wearing a blue dress, shakes hands with an AIDS patient whose back is to the camera.
REX/Shutterstock

This past Friday, President Donald Trump announced new federal guidelines that his administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were recommending that all Americans now wear non-medical masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

According to their website, the CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings or where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, and not know it, from transmitting it to others. The CDC site says, This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.” This includes our president and those working in The White House.

Recent studies show that a significant number of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.

Asked if the president would be participating in his own recommendation, he replied, “I just don’t want to wear one myself, it’s a recommendation, they recommend it, I’m feeling good.” He went on to say that he didn’t picture it in the Oval Office, “Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute desk — I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens; I don’t know, I just don’t see it for myself.”

His response comes as we face a global pandemic with a virus that is highly contagious. Even though President Trump may be “feeling good” he could still be carrying the illness without symptoms and unwittingly transmitting it to others.

Trump’s “do as I say, not as I do” statement is not just reckless, it’s a missed opportunity to set an example and model what we as a nation, and the world, should be doing to flatten the curve.

In the mid-1980’s, the world was facing a similar situation surrounding HIV/AIDS and its spread. In April 1987, Princess Diana of Wales opened a medical unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital to exclusively care for patients infected with the virus. In front of the world’s media, Diana sat down, smiled and shook hands with an AIDS patient without wearing gloves. This one simple gesture shattered the very common…but very false…belief at the time that HIV or AIDS could be transmitted by touch. Up until that day, HIV/AIDS patients were being shunned and ostracized by society.

That one iconic photo changed everything.

People said if a member of the Royal Family could shake hands with a person infected with HIV, they could too. Prince Harry, Diana’s son, was quoted about that iconic moment saying, “she knew exactly what she was doing. She was using her position as Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion, and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away.”

As Americans, we desperately need a “Princess Diana moment” with our Commander in Chief following his own advice. Leading by example and letting us know that he’s with us, doing all he can to help stop the spread of coronavirus. It’s time to practice what he preaches. The leader of the free world could be modeling how he’s protecting himself, his staff, fellow leaders, even his own family during this time and that the rest of America (and the world) should be too.

A single photo of him wearing a mask with his staff doing the same, could be just the thing we need to flatten the curve in ways no one else in the world can.

During a time of crisis, we look to our leaders for guidance.

There’s tremendous power and influence in the presidency and now is the time to use that power for the good of humanity.

Bylines at The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe Magazine and more. Portfolio: www.LauraRichardsWriter.com

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