SASKATOON -- George Hofer of Arm River Hutterite Colony has seen his livelihood affected since some COVID-19 cases were linked to other Hutterite communities in the province.

“I’m hoping the public understands that we as Hutterites are not all the same. We don’t all live in one colony. We live all over Saskatchewan. We don’t visit each other due to COVID-19.”

He’s the poultry manager at Arm River Farming and says they’ve seen a 20 per cent drop in customers since the Hutterite cases emerged near Maple Creek.

The Arm River colony sells chicken to a processing plant as well as to the public. They also sell metal siding which customers pick up from their colony.

Hofer says they’ve undergone stringent safety protocol adjustments in recent weeks in accordance with Saskatchewan Health Authority guidelines.

They’ve been adhering to physical distancing, mask wearing and increased hand sanitizing since the pandemic started, he said.

“For any deliveries that we do here at the colony for customers, it’s all curbside. We do encourage customers to stay in their vehicles and we will serve them in accordance.”

He fears that in the case of Hutterite colonies or northern communities for example, the public is assuming that COVID-19 is linked to everyone in a certain community.

He said the affected colonies have complied with all guidelines to limit the spread of the disease.

He also has faith in his customers and is confident they will return in the future.

University of Saskatchewan infectious disease specialist Pamela Downe said the stigmatizing of the “other” is not a new phenomenon.

“As far as the northern communities, there was this line of public perception that divided ‘them’ from the central-southern ‘us.’”

Education is key to changing public perception as well as having leaders who use inclusive language and don’t add to the negative perception, she said.

“I think it’s fuelled by fear and then that fear gets stoked with certain political discourse."