Few victims of public shame have become as famous as Mr. Cronk, the New Brunswicker who contracted coronavirus while on a business trip.

He initially had no symptoms and so did not have to self-isolate when he returned, he said.

Nine days later, he showed some symptoms and tested positive for the coronavirus, so the health department started tracking down contacts. After the local news media wrote a story about a frustrated shopkeeper who did not believe his employees were exposed to the virus, Mr Cronk feared that he would come out as a source of exposure knowing he had visited the store.

“Saint John is very small,” he said. “I knew it was a matter of time before my name was spoken.” So he reached out to the CBC network to “get the story straight before the chatter got around”. To the best of his knowledge, none of his contacts have been positive and he has never been charged by police for violating public emergency regulations, he said.

Then a video clip from his Instagram account promoting his marijuana supply business, “Cronk Grow Nutrients”, made the rounds on Twitter. In it, Mr Cronk said that he “can’t taste anything at the moment” and described the many trips he had made that month. Many believed that he had knowingly and carelessly spread the virus.

The visuals and timing were terrible: as memes multiplied, the province’s top doctor announced an increase in cases, and the prime minister declared crackdown on Christmas trips and gatherings. On-line, Mr. Cronk was considered the Chief Infector of New Brunswick.

“There was no lesson to be learned,” said Mr. Cronk. “I was ashamed for no reason.”

Historically, stigma and shame have faithfully tracked pandemics, said David Barnes, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the history of infectious diseases and epidemics. During the plague in Europe, Jewish people became easy scapegoats. During the 19th century cholera epidemic in Britain, the Irish were accused of working class, Barnes said.

Most recently, gay men and Haitians were stigmatized during the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

“We feel more secure and superior by associating illness with people who are not like us, doing things we don’t, or coming from places that don’t belong with us,” Barnes said. “We shouldn’t be surprised.”

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