COVID-19, also called the coronavirus, has and is likely to affect people from many countries, in many geographical locations. However, if you are not in an area where it is spreading and have not recently traveled to an area where it is spreading, your risk of infection is low – but the possibility of social stigma for certain groups is high.
It is understandable that you may feel anxious about the global outbreak. However, fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma toward Asian-Americans as well as those who may have a cough or sniffles caused by the common cold, flu, allergies, etc. This now may even extend to those who have recently traveled.
Stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate an infectious disease with a specific population, nationality, or other group, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease (for example, Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans living in the United States, or those who have just returned from a trip to Italy, Washington state or other areas with increasing COVID-19 cases).
People who have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of COVID-19 or been in contact with a person who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19 than other Americans.
“A global outbreak like this affects everyone, and an emotional response to its impact is normal,” said Mikayla Johnson, disaster behavioral health coordinator and administrator for the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “But if people avoid or blame others, this can also affect those who are virus-free. Stigma hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem. We can fight stigma and help, not hurt, others by providing social support.”
Don’t attach COVID-19 to any ethnicity or nationality. Be empathetic to those who have been impacted, especially if they were directly infected. Those with the illness have done nothing wrong.
Viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.
People from affected countries that live in the U.S. may be worried or anxious about friends and relatives who are living in or who have recently traveled to a region identified as having a high incidence of spread. Facing stigma can make fear and anxiety worsen. Social support during this outbreak can help them cope.
Remember that people who have traveled to areas where the COVID-19 outbreak is happening to assist with the response efforts have performed a valuable service to everyone by helping to guard against further spread.
Helping to fight an illness of this magnitude can be mentally and emotionally challenging. These helpers need social support upon their return.
The U.S. government is responding to the outbreak and updating Travel Health Notices, as needed.
To aid in the anti-stigma effort:
Raise awareness about COVID-19 without increasing fear.
Share accurate information about how the virus spreads.
Speak out against negative behaviors, including negative statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no immediate risk from regular activities.
Share the need for social support for people who have returned from areas where the virus is active, or who are worried about friends or relatives in the affected region.
There are simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash immediately.