Racism: The Real Virus
by Alexander Chen (12)
Note: The editorial below is a slightly modified version of an online post that I wrote last week that saw both an outpouring of support and toxic backlash from members of the community. I am once again reiterating my views on this topic, albeit with updates in accordance with the crisis’ development.
Seeing both valid concerns and dangerous hysteria surrounding the recent Covid-19 (Wuhan novel coronavirus) outbreak, I would like to provide some necessary clarification regarding this issue.
It is human nature to be anxious about an unfamiliar perceived threat. After all, though road accidents kill hundreds of people per day in the US alone, we see unknown public health threats (SARS, Ebola, nCoV) as much more cause for panic.
Yet, it's necessary to look at the facts. As of today (01/30), there have been roughly 100 cases of the virus worldwide and only 6 in the US. The vast majority of these cases originated from individuals who traveled from the affected areas and have now all been identified and effectively dealt with.
China is currently in the middle of its most cherished holiday season. When the virus first emerged a month ago, a mass migration of people back to their hometowns and families was just beginning, explaining why the virus has affected a significant number of people in China itself. Wuhan is an absolutely breathtaking city and is also a node of transportation in central China, explaining its sizable population especially during the holiday season. Yes, the health system has for obvious reasons been strained by this issue. Most non-essential hospital staff were already scheduling vacation and family plans when this outbreak first emerged. Having personally been in China recently for the ultimately-canceled New Year festivities, I can say from personal experience that many preventive measures have been enacted to stop transmission outside of China. Provisional hospitals have been constructed within days, and thousands of medical personnel have been mobilized. The stress of such a sudden issue to tackle has obviously led to a few individuals struggling to treat all possibly affected patients, but the overall national response has been awe-inspiring in its speed and efficiency.
What I wish to convey as editor-in-chief to the worried Pleasanton parent community is that irrational panic is unwarranted and can be harmful itself. Many afflicted patients have already made full recoveries, while vaccine research has been particularly speedy. Keep in mind that vaccines are not cures for viruses; they inoculate the general population. Even the common cold (caused in part by a different type of coronavirus) and the flu have no cures.
Backed by clear evidence, the most significant consequence of this recent panic is the increase in racism and vitriol against those with Asian backgrounds. According to The New York Times, businesses throughout Hong Kong, South Korea, and Vietnam have posted signs telling customers from mainland China they are unwelcome. Nearly 9000 parents in a Toronto school district have signed a petition to remove all students who have traveled to China (a country with the land area of the US) from school; many of the signatures are accompanied with hideous epithets and hurtful stereotypes that add absolutely no value to the discussion. I'm fully confident that the welcoming Pleasanton community will not even think of such actions.
Please, tell your children and loved ones to wash their hands as they should always, especially during the flu season. To those who retort "better safe than sorry," I urge you to consider the racism and paranoia that has emerged globally compared to the handful of cases. During the Ebola crisis, I distinctly recall this same pattern of seemingly cautious thinking that really just perpetuates irrational fear. Be aware of this virus, but don't panic and take unnecessary, drastic measures in fear of it. It's the right and logical thing to do.
Update #1 (02/10):
I have been approached by many concerned friends and parents who “show the data” and insist that the rapidly increasing death toll and international spread of the virus is certain cause for alarm.
Definitely, the situation has gotten worse, but that is the case with any epidemic. When I first wrote the original post above, I was confident that the body and case counts would increase, especially with the return of individuals to their workplaces after the conclusion of the Chinese New Year holiday. Yet, this is still no excuse to apply blanket stereotypes to those of Asian descents (racist incidents, some of them violent, have certainly exploded in frequency as well). My advice still stands strong. Be cautious, but don’t be paranoid. Ignore the conspiracy theories out there that claim that this virus is some sort of bioweapon or that the “Miracle Mineral Solution” (aka bleach) will somehow immunize you against it. Fear is a rabid animal, and it’s up to you to control it.