OTTAWA -- We need to talk about how we talk about COVID-19.

That’s according to Ottawa’s top doctor, who says everyone must do their part to combat the rise in stigma and prejudice against people who have—or have had—the novel coronavirus.

“We do know that this idea of being a source of infection—a case—can be harmful,” Dr. Vera Etches told a news conference on Friday. “It’s not how we want to view people. We want to view people as people.”

To that end, Ottawa Public Health has released a position statement with some suggestions on how to push back against that stigma, which can lead to discriminatory behaviour and stereotypes.

Chief among them: changing the terms we use.

“Instead of referring to a COVID-19 case, say ‘an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19,’ Etches said.

That’s an example of ‘person-first’ language. Another example: Instead of calling people ‘suspected cases,’ say ‘people who are presumptive for COVID-19.’

Another no-no: using the word ‘infection,’ which has connotations of being a threat or unclean.

People should also correct myths and stereotypes when they hear them Ottawa Public Health says, and avoid using language that blames people for infecting others.

Etches said Ottawa Public Health has heard from people feeling as though they are being judged negatively.

Ottawa Public Health says people who have had COVID-19 are at risk of experiencing stigma during the pandemic, beause people may presume they did not follow preventative measures like physical distancing, mask-wearing or hand-washing.

Health care workers treating COVID-19, and people perceived to be of Asian descent are also at risk, OPH says.

The position paper also acknowledges that the public health unit’s actions, while essential for prevention and mitigation of COVID-19, also have the potential to exacerbate stigma.

“We ourselves can do better, and we’re going to commit to that,” Etches said.

You can read Ottawa Public Health’s full position statement here.