The outbreak of the coronavirus has rocked the global community to its core, not only inciting fear and hesitation among billions of people but also in prompting instances of racism around the world. We here at Trinity are not immune to the dangers posed by the December outbreak of the virus, despite the apparent bubble that surrounds our campus and keeps us detached from the larger world. Contrary to the popular opinion on campus, the virus does not require a lime nor does it pose a threat to Bud-Light flu; here is what you need to know about the global-health crsis.
The coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and since December has been confirmed in more than 25 countries and territories. Almost 60 million people in China are under lockdown as international researchers attempt to create a vaccine and hinder the spread of the virus. The outbreak has killed at least 305 people across the globe, infecting 14,300 people total. Only one person outside of mainland China, a man from the Philippeans, has died. As of this past Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will enforce restrictions for all passenger flights carrying people who have recently traveled from China. Eight cases of the virus have been confirmed in the U.S., and the latest is not far from home, as a University of Massachusetts-Boston student was recently confirmed infected.
Connecticut residents faced a scare when reports of an infected Wesleyan student spread across the state just last week. The student had recently been through an airport in which there were confirmed cases of the virus, but upon being monitored, the student tested negative for the disease. Although this was a false alarm, a confirmed case still remains a state over, and a patient at Bellevue Hospital in New York City is being tested as well.
Scares of the virus have been occurring daily on college campuses across the country, with administrators canceling sporting events and launching petitions to cancel classes out of fear. Colleges and universities are breeding grounds for bacteria and illness, so no wonder people are losing their minds after a global-health concern was declared for an untreatable virus. However, there is no case in which it is a bad idea to remain calm and prevent stigmatization across campuses worldwide.
What people fail to acknowledge is the prevalent threat of more “ordinary” diseases like the common influenza which kills anywhere from thirty to eighty thousand people a year, according to the CDC. Diseases only become harrowing threats when they stem from places that feel distant and unfamiliar to the average American.
The dramatics surrounding the coronavirus only further exacerbate the racist stereotypes that coincide with foreign borne illnesses. When the Ebola virus broke out in 2014, the internet was rampant with concerns about “catching Ebola.” Many misconstrued the specifics of the disease, painting Ebola as something that plagued the entirety of Africa rather than just a few countries, namely Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Only four cases were reported in the United States with three of the infected surviving and one passing away. Ebola was hyperbolized as a genuine, widespread threat to the United States and perpetuated the racist stereotype of a disease-ridden Africa.
Just as Ebola enabled a racist attitude towards Africa, the coronavirus has encouraged xenophobic comments targeting Asian people as a whole. Further fear mongering can be found on social media sites like Twitter, where videos have appeared showing a man throwing up blood on a train, falsely claiming the episode as a symptom of coronavirus. The man was actually a victim of late stage liver cancer, but this information is hidden among a sea of replies.
Spreading false information to a worldwide audience encourages a culture that not only dramatizes the risk of infection, but also alienates people with whom the virus is associated: in corona’s case, those of Asian descent.
The coronavirus is not currently a devasting threat to the well-being of Trinity students, but should the disease spread further, the correct response is not panic but self care. Wash your damn hands. Wear a face mask. Don’t perpetuate racist stereotypes that the international student in your class is going to infect you with corona.
-KN & LF