UBC research reveals fears that have arisen among the general public about coming into contact with health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in four people surveyed went so far as to agree that the freedoms of health care workers should be restricted. The study is believed to be the first on stigmatization of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Steven Taylor, PhD, a professor of psychiatry in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, is lead author of the study, published by the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
The research team surveyed a random sample of 3551 people in Canada and the US between 6 and 19 May to see if they would discriminate against health care workers based on fears they could carry the virus that causes COVID-19. One in three respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I do not want to be around someone who works in a health care setting.”
The researchers also asked respondents how often they participated in nightly shows of support for health care workers. Clapping, cheering, and banging pots didn’t make a person any less likely to stigmatize health care workers.
Previous research has shown that COVID-19 is only slightly more prevalent among health care workers than it is among the general population: 0.14% compared to 0.10%. Experts believe much of this difference can be attributed to more testing among health care workers.
Data from this study showed that stigmatization was closely related to COVID-19 Stress Syndrome, which had been identified by Taylor in earlier research and is characterized by:
- Fears that COVID-19 is highly dangerous.
- A tendency to view foreigners as sources of infection.
- Avoidance of public places like supermarkets where encounters with other people are likely.
While the COVID-19 pandemic does carry risks for health care workers, the risk of contracting the virus is not high among them. Workplace stress is a much bigger problem, and stigmatization compounds that mental health risk. The researchers call for clear, sensible public education campaigns to help people understand that health care workers pose little risk to the public. The article, “Fear and avoidance of healthcare workers: An important, under-recognized form of stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic,” is available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102289.
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