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No Ka Oi Health

Stigma, in general, is a form of discrimination against a group of people. It is typically associated with lack of knowledge about how disease spreads, the need to blame someone, fears about the disease and unfounded rumors and myths.

Specific to COVID-19, stigma has been occurring against people here on Maui for several reasons, including race/ethnicity, place of residence, occupation, having had COVID-19 in the past, etc. Some groups of people who may have experienced stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic include:

• Certain racial and ethnic minority groups, including Pacific Islanders.

• People who tested positive for COVID-19 even though they have recovered from being sick and have been released from isolation.

• People who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 even though they have not become ill and have been released from quarantine.

• Emergency responders or health care providers.

• People who have disabilities or developmental disorders who may have difficulty following mask and distancing recommendations.

• People who have underlying health conditions that cause a cough.

• People living in specific housing settings or locations associated with previous COVID-19 clusters.

The effect of these groups having stigma can take the form of:

• Being avoided and rejected by others.

• Getting denied health care, education, housing or employment.

• Verbal and/or physical abuse, which can lead to reduced emotional, mental and physical health and increased isolation, depression and anxiety.

Stigma doesn’t help any situation, including our efforts against COVID-19. It simply creates more fear or anger toward people instead of focusing on preventing the disease. Stigma can also have the additional negative reaction of causing people to hide symptoms or illness and keep them from seeking health care immediately. Basically, stigma can make it more difficult to control the spread of COVID-19.

This pandemic is a stressful time for people and communities. We need to continue to work together to increase knowledge on how COVID-19 spreads so we can prevent spread, rebuke unfounded rumors and myths, and calm fears. We are in this together and we will get through this pandemic together. Together we can decrease stigma here on Maui and continue to live with aloha toward each other. Please continue to practice mitigation: Wear a mask when in public, remain at least 6 feet apart from others, avoid gathering in groups larger than five, wash your hands often, disinfect high-use surfaces often and stay home when ill. And most of all, have empathy and show aloha to each other. We can all use more kindness right now rather than stigma.

Mahalo for your cooperation. If you have questions and comments, call Public Health Education at (808) 984-8216 or email DOH.MauiTriage@doh.hawaii.gov.

* Kristin Mills is a public health educator with the state Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office. No Ka Oi Health is published on the second and fourth Thursday of the month by the state Department of Health.

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