Gull Bay First Nation Chief says stigma has become an issue as the community reports seventh COVID-19 case
Gull Bay First Nation Chief worries members may avoid testing due to 'fears of being socially ostracized'
Another member of Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN) has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the community to seven, according to GBFN officials.
The Chief of Gull Bay First Nation, Wilfred King, said contact tracing is underway in the community to determine who may have been in close contact with the latest positive case, but he worries about how stigma attached to the virus will impact those being tested.
"As we continue to see here in GBFN there is no age group that is immune to COVID-19 as cases reach across the spectrum from toddlers to elders," reads the news release from King.
COVID-19 testing will continue in the community, which is located about 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, by appointment at the BlueMed assessment facility.
King said "it is critically important" for members who are asked to participate in contact tracing questions to be "completely truthful" with nursing staff who are doing the screening.
He added that there are no consequences for actions that may have unknowingly exposed individuals to the virus in the community.
"I would hate to see the virus continue to grow or members even deny to submit to healthcare processes because of individual's fears of being socially ostracized...We must come together as a nation to ensure we limit the number of victims," said King.
COVID-19 stigma becomes an issue in the northwest
According to King, there has been an increase of social stigmas attached to the individuals who are currently ill with COVID-19 in the community. He said persons "suffering through" COVID-19 illness have been subject to "gossiping, false blame-laying, and name calling."
"The virus in the community was not purposefully brought here by any one individual or family. I strongly suggest that those who think that casual joking about [COVID-19], or even some who are making false accusations around those in recovery and those who have contact simply stop," he said.
On Monday, Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) staff said in a blog post that they have been seeing stigma related issues come up for people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in their catchment area.
"We are seeing issues come up for people who have been diagnosed and then being labelled as "careless" or having brought COVID-19 to the community", reads the blog written by TBDHU Health Promotion Planner, Rachelle Roussel.
"Some people are even scared to get tested to avoid stigma associated with a positive result. This is concerning and it makes it even more difficult for our community."
Roussel outlined the impacts of COVID-19 stigma, noting increased anxiety and worsened mental health for those with confirmed or presumptive cases.
Other concerns surrounding the impacts of stigma outlined by TBDHU include a reduced likelihood of getting tested in fear of discrimination, and avoidance of self-isolation to hide illness.