Naming and shaming those who defy pandemic precautions not the best idea, medical journal editor argues


An opinion piece in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) is suggesting that public shaming during the coronavirus pandemic might not be the best way to deal with people who break the rules.

The article, authored by Diana Duong, an experienced editor with the CMAJ, examines the idea of naming and shaming those who stand out by ignoring what many now consider to be common sense pandemic precautions.  

"People have been quick to call out others for public health failures during the pandemic, especially as those measures have become more politically divisive. But does it do any good?" Duong wrote. 

She added that studies have discovered that public put-downs actually result in worse public health outcomes for such things as HIV, obesity and fetal alcohol syndrome. 

Duong also wrote that early on in the COVID-19 pandemic some experts warned that shaming could lead to less transparency about people's infection status and information on who they were in contact with. Some people who have tested positive for COVID-19 would rather lie about not wearing masks or not social distancing than endure shaming from their peers. 

"However, some physicians argue they have a responsibility to call out people who blatantly defy public health orders and put others’ lives at risk. And some forms of peer pressure may be helpful in achieving public health goals," Duong wrote. 

She described the concerns of Dr. Naheed Dosani, who is a Toronto-based palliative care physician. She said Dosani was frustrated to see authorities in Toronto taking several days to shut down the Adamson barbecue restaurant, which refused to comply with local pandemic restrictions. At the same time Dosani noted that authorities were much quicker to police vulnerable communities' adherence to public health rules. Dosani said the level of apparent public support for the restaurant owner felt like a “slap in the face” to frontline workers, Duong wrote. She also posted an anecdote about a woman with a sick spouse who was upset at the restaurant owner. 

“I just supported a woman by phone who was in tears because she so badly wants to see her husband in hospital, who has #COVID19,” Dosani posted on Twitter.