'Some degree of concern is reasonable': UBC psychologist on coronavirus fears in Metro Vancouver
VANCOUVER -- A day after B.C.'s provincial health officer announced the first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in B.C., many passengers at Vancouver International Airport are wearing masks, and late Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Health confirmed what had already been widely suspected—that the presumed case is, in fact, novel coronavirus.
While most doctors say that simple face masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of virus to healthy people, a UBC professor who wrote a book on the psychology of pandemics said some people are truly fearful and are looking for something proactive to do.
"Suddenly something that seems far away is right on your front doorstep, and the threat seems more imminent, and people start thinking about it more," said Dr. Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease.
"It seems like quite a lot of people are reacting with excessive anxiety," Taylor said. "People are going to start misinterpreting ordinary coughs and colds as signs of potential infection. Some people avoid going to work or public transit and that can create problems. It can also lead to an increase in racism and xenophobia, as frightened people jump to conclusions and say Chinese people are sources of infection."
Taylor said that happened during the SARS outbreak of 2003. "Not only discrimination against Asian people, but also against healthcare workers. People in their communities were discriminating against them, thinking they were associated with or a threat of infection," he said.
He expects the fear will ramp up, especially if there are more confirmed cases in B.C. "If its seen to be something that’s really dangerous, you could see an increase of people going to the emergency departments thinking they're infected, when in fact they're not."
Taylor said some degree of concern is reasonable, but if it's impacting how people live their lives, they should speak to a professional. "Unfortunately, some people are excessively worried and anxious, and that can cause additional problems in their lives," he said.