Don’t stigmatize people with COVID-19, says Manitoba chief health officer Roussin

Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has a message for the public: don’t stigmatize people who test positive for COVID-19.

The province’s top doc made the statement in a press briefing Sept. 10, not long after the first reported positive case of COVID-19 at a Manitoba school. A student at a Winnipeg-area high school tested positive for the disease Sept. 9. No other cases related to the student have been announced by the province.

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“We need to remember that we’re all in this together and we have to have the wellbeing of Manitoba at our forefront when we think about these things. Please do not try to stigmatize an individual. We want everybody to be able to go for testing and I would encourage anyone, whether in school or else wise, to go for testing even if you have mild symptoms,” said Roussin.

“If we identify you as a case, we’ll take the steps needed but no one blames you for having COVID-19 - we just need people to go for testing. Do not be afraid to go for testing.”

Roussin said the negative response to people who have tested positive both harms the mental health of those who have tested positive and could prevent other close contacts or people with symptoms from coming forward for tests, lest they get the same treatment.

“I think it’s important to keep Manitobans informed, but we need to balance that with not stigmatizing individuals, deterring others from getting tested as we go along,” said Roussin. “No one blames you for having COVID-19.”

The message may ring especially true in northern Manitoba, specifically in Flin Flon. After a person in the community tested positive for COVID-19 in March, a wave of online harassment followed, leaving family members of the person to speak about the harassment with the Winnipeg Free Press.

“The social media backlash has been unbelievable,” said the person’s mother in the Free Press story. The family declined to be identified in the paper’s story.

Mental health effects on people who have tested positive for COVID-19, particularly younger cases including that of the student announced Sept. 10, are an unintended consequence of letting the public know about possible case impacts, Roussin said.

“That’s the downside of releasing specific information. I think we’ve made it clear, and I’ve been certainly forthcoming, that everything in this situation was done correctly. There wasn’t anything this individual did wrong. I would encourage people to accept that… but it’s also important for the next individual who has, say, mild symptoms who might think twice about getting testing because of the level of scrutiny,” Roussin said.


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