Fear and avoidance of healthcare workers: An important, under-recognized form of stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic
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BackgroundDuring past disease outbreaks, healthcare workers (HCWs) have been stigmatized (e.g., shunned, ostracized) by members in their community, for fear that HCWs are sources of infection. There has been no systematic evaluation of HCW stigmatization during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MethodsNon-HCW adults from the United States and Canada (N = 3551) completed an online survey, including measures of HCW stigmatization, COVID Stress Syndrome, and avoidance.
ResultsOver a quarter of respondents believed that HCWs should have severe restrictions placed on their freedoms, such as being kept in isolation from their communities and their families. Over a third of respondents avoided HCWs for fear of infection. Participation in altruistic support of HCWs (i.e., evening clapping and cheering) was unrelated to stigmatizing attitudes. Demographic variables had small or trivial correlations with HCW stigmatization. People who stigmatized HCWs also tended to avoid other people, avoid drug stores and supermarkets, and avoid leaving their homes. Factor analysis suggested that HCW stigmatization is linked to the COVID Stress Syndrome.
ConclusionFear and avoidance of HCWs is a widespread, under-recognized problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is associated with the COVID Stress Syndrome and might be reduced by interventions targeting this syndrome.
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