New York Times article says Atlantic Canada is ripe for pandemic stigma
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- An article in one of the world's most prestigious newspapers says Canada, and particularly Atlantic Canada, is ripe for pandemic blame and judgement on a personal level.
The New York Times piece, published Sunday, suggests a high degree of stigma in the region against people who have COVID-19 or people who may be perceived to be acting irresponsibly during the pandemic.
The piece goes on to say such stigma may be "driving virus cases underground" in terms of testing and treatment.
"There's no doubt the Atlantic region has been unique globally," says Robert Huish, an associate professor in the International Development Studies department at Dalhousie University.
Huish, who is quoted in the Times article, is doing a study on COVID-19 stigma around the region.
"We've seen entire demographics of people feel that they've been targeted, that they've been labelled as being those who are responsible," he says.
UNB psychologist Mary Ann Campbell says some of her clients are sharing their own anxieties about COVID-19 shaming.
"I've had the experience of having clients speak to me about their concerns of 'What if I ever tested positive for COVID?'" says Campbell, adding most of the fears surround how friends and work colleagues would react.
"Public shaming, ridiculing, attacking, making threats, these types of things are not going to help any of us get through this any easier," says Campbell.
The Times piece is receiving plenty of attention around the region, with most of the focus on one person.
The article centres on Cortland Cronk, a former New Brunswick resident and traveling salesman who some blame for New Brunswick's December COVID-19 outbreak. Cronk denies those claims in the article.
Cronk was trending on Twitter for several hours Sunday.
There have been several examples of COVID-19 shaming widely reported in the Maritimes over the past year.
Dr. Jean Robert Ngola is facing charges under the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Act and is accused of failing to quarantine after returning to Campbellton, N.B. from Quebec in May. Ngola and his lawyer dispute the claim and say allegations he was "patient zero" in a local outbreak of COVID-19 led to harassment and racism.
People who live on the Canadian-U.S. border say they've been shunned in their communities because of family members who travel back and forth between the two countries for work designated as essential.
People driving with license plates from outside the Maritime region have reported being yelled at or having their vehicle vandalized.
Huish stands by his concerns that COVID-19 shaming is only making the job of health professionals more difficult.
"It doesn't help with openness, about reporting, about getting tested, about being vigilant towards self-isolations," he says. "That can be harmful and the virus can take advantage of that."
"The way we get through this and we get to the end of it is by being compassionate to each other."