Will there be a stigma surrounding the coronavirus in schools?

Published: Sep. 7, 2020 at 3:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Tuesday is the first day of school in Vermont. The state’s Health Department has said there will be cases in schools, but how will students react given the stigma around the coronavirus? Some Vermonters tell WCAX News people who test positive are essentially exiled in their community.

“We need to do a better job about that. Normalizing it because the reality of it is, it is the normal now,” says Patsy Kelso, the state epidemiologist. “Just like there’s flu around every winter in Vermont, there’s COVID around right now.”

When it comes to the social and emotional aspects of the coronavirus, South Burlington High School Principal Patrick Burke says there will be candid conversations. He says his school wants to empower students by discussing their fears and the science behind the virus: “What are the fears and concerns that are reasonable? What actions can I take to mitigate that risk and then how can we work together to support each other and be understanding?”

In the Rutland area, most students we spoke with say they wouldn’t be mad at a fellow student for catching the virus.

“It’s unavoidable a lot of times and even just an interaction with one wrong person, you can get it. No, they’re still people at the end of the day,” said Ethan Courcelle, a junior at Mount St. Joseph Academy, who was buying shool supplies Monday afternoon. “I personally wouldn’t be mad because a lot of times it is undetectable, but I do understand people who may be aggravated at the situation just because they may have family members that it may affect worse than them.”

Iris Hier, a third-grader at Rutland Intermediate School, says she wouldn’t be mad at someone, “Because it’s not their fault.”

Jada Hughes’ school, Wallingford Elementary, is learning remotely, but the fifth-grader says if they were in-person, classmates would probably get mad at someone who has it. “They don’t want to get sick and chances of dying because of a virus instead of just staying home.”

Kelso says the health department has been trying to eliminate the stigma around the virus because someone can be doing everything correctly and still get it.

“Maybe someone just breathed on you or near you. It is not anyone’s fault if they get COVID,” explained Kelso.

A teacher told WCAX on Monday afternoon it’s up to adults to set the tone for students.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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