N.S. doctors warn against COVID-19 stigma, say 'othering' people makes pandemic worse

·2 min read

HALIFAX — A group of public health physicians in Nova Scotia is urging residents to avoid stigmatizing people with COVID-19 because it says doing so could make the pandemic worse.

The group of seven physicians and one medical resident released a letter Thursday warning about the harms of "othering" people during the pandemic. "If we don’t curb COVID stigma, we run the risk of seeing COVID-19 increase in our province," the letter reads.

COVID stigma first surfaced in the province at the start of the pandemic, the doctors say, when people with the disease were shamed on social media or when Nova Scotia residents discriminated against people with out-of-province licence plates.

Dr. Ryan Sommers says social media shaming has been a key concern for health officials.

"We've had a couple situations now where through social media, or through rumours that are spreading incorrect information, the community knows much more about a case than public health does."

The doctors say efforts to encourage residents to get tested can be hampered by fears of judgment and discrimination, which the doctors say can interfere with contract tracing.

Some people fear getting tested despite having COVID-19 symptoms because of the possibility of being treated as an outcast, Sommers said. "They're fearful of what other people say so they don't get tested," he said. "When they delay their testing, that delays our opportunities to quickly help contain the virus,"

The physicians are calling for people to “focus on our common humanity” and avoid laying blame.

They also say public health measures can unintentionally worsen stigma because governments often focus messaging on certain communities or age groups.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press