'There is always someone who is shunned': Study examines COVID shaming

Finding people to blame during a pandemic goes back to biblical times, but a Dalhousie University professor hopes that a study of shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a start to breaking the historical cycle.

Shaming ‘an unfortunate consequence of quarantine for thousands of years’

Dalhousie University Prof. Robert Huish wants to hear from people who have been shunned or shamed during the pandemic. (CBC)

Finding people to blame during a pandemic goes back to biblical times, but a Dalhousie University professor hopes that a study of shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a start to breaking the historical cycle.

"There is always someone who is shunned, someone who is shamed, someone who is made to feel marginalized, and that's been an unfortunate consequence of quarantine for thousands of years," International Development Studies Prof. Robert Huish told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"It usually comes down to some people feel that, "We're abiding by the rules. You've become ill over here, so obviously you weren't. So thereby the suffering that we're doing, the adjustments that we're making to our life, you're not respecting it.'"

Last weekend on P.E.I. the name of a student who tested positive for COVID-19 was posted on social media, which prompted Premier Dennis King and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison to come out in their defence.

Who belongs in the bubble?

Huish points out that viruses have no morality, respect no rules, and there is no such thing as a perfect system of quarantine.

This is particularly true in modern society, when international interconnection makes completely closing off a geographic area impossible, he said.

In the case of the Atlantic bubble, that has led to the stigmatization of people with licence plates from outside the region, including damage to vehicles. Essential workers moving in and out of the bubble have also been targeted.

While the Atlantic bubble has protected its residents, it may also be giving them a sense of exclusivity. (Brian McInnis/The Canadian Press)

"We want to understand what perceptions people are associating with the Atlantic bubble. Who fits into the bubble and who doesn't," said Huish.

"It's not just about putting a border around an area and saying that's safe from a pandemic. It's really about the behaviour within the bubble that matters. That also means being really kind to each other."

Pandemic 'leaves nobody behind'

Huish is looking for people who have been the targets of pandemic shaming to tell their stories. He does not imagine that relaying those stories will change attitudes for this pandemic, but hopes it might for the next one.

"Something as globally inclusive as a pandemic leaves nobody out. It leaves nobody behind," said Huish.

"What we're trying to do by getting the stories from people who've experienced being targeted by bullying or shaming, that we can get to the sort of level as a society for education and policy that makes it more inclusive next time down the road."

'Weird social complexities'

Huish cautions the arrival of a vaccine, expected early in the new year, could paradoxically be a difficult time.

In the beginning there will not be enough vaccine for everyone, and the federal government has already said certain groups will be prioritized for getting it. Canadians need to think carefully about how the rollout is handled, Huish said.

"Allowing people to be vaccinated and then suddenly free of any of the ordinances that the rest of society is following, that could build huge resentment, stigmatization, and all sorts of weird social complexities that we may not see coming," he said.

People need to be emotionally prepared for staying in some level of lockdown with physical distancing probably well into the summer, he added.

Huish is starting his study in Nova Scotia, but hopes to expand it across Atlantic Canada and eventually across the country.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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