From television’s Dr. Mehmet Oz to your next-door neighbours in quiet suburbia, every person in America has an opinion about the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). I urge everyone to check your biases, momentarily quash your anxiety, and cautiously review evidence-backed data. The truth “hurts” because it may not be the one you support. Here are three lessons that I want everyone to take away from this global, ever-changing public health crisis.
1. Half of all Americans appear to be underreacting, while the other half appears to be overreacting. Both reactions are dangerous.
We simply don’t know enough about COVID-19 to write it off as less of a threat than seasonal influenza. Yes, if you are a healthy, able-bodied adult or child, you are far more likely to have a mild or even symptom-less case of COVID-19. But what about the people within your community who are immunosuppressed, elderly, and generally more vulnerable to illness? Please take all necessary precautions and practice good hygiene because if you do become a “silent” (asymptomatic) carrier, you could escalate the crisis within your own community.
Yes, approximately 18,000 Americans have died of influenza since September 2019; the flu is no joke. However, depending on how competently US government and healthcare institutions contain and treat patients, COVID-19 has the potential to be more deadly than the flu. To start, the US Center for Disease Control and other partner organizations within local communities must ramp up testing capabilities before we can adequately size up this enemy. Only 1,895 Americans have been tested. This means that there are potentially thousands more Americans who are infected, but local, state and federal authorities don’t know about them and can’t adequately support them. Additionally, testing capacity varies from state to state. California can test roughly 7,400 persons per day, while Texas can only test 30 persons per day. These discrepancies in states’ diagnostic capabilities are exacerbated by the fact that different state and local-level agencies may already lack the resources and know-how to respond to an outbreak. In other words, states and counties with underfunded, understaffed, and ill-equipped healthcare systems still face an ugly and uncertain uphill struggle.
All this said, I strongly believe that you can take COVID-19 seriously without panic-buying, hoarding, and fear-mongering. When individual panic turns into community-wide anxiety and frustration, there may be unintended consequences, such as price gouging and low supplies for our friends, family members, and neighbors who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
2. Pull and actively interpret data from multiple reputable sources.
It’s easy to hear numbers out of context and get an incomplete picture of what is truly happening. These misperceptions can fuel our attitudes of overreaction or underreaction. For example, COVID-19 has caused 177 reported ongoing cases and 11 deaths. That seems absolutely miniscule in proportion to our nearly 330 million population and in comparison to the flu’s fatality rate, epidemiologists predict that COVID-19 will likely have a higher fatality rate than the seasonal flu. I encourage everyone to check out the World Health Organization’s situation reports, which I have consulted in writing this piece.
3. Be consciously empathetic towards Americans who identify as being of Asian and Pacific Islander descent (AAPI).
We’re Americans, too, but two things set us apart from non-AAPI folks. First, there have been documented instances of anti-AAPI discrimination due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Whether through language or action, it’s unacceptable when people blame AAPIs for the disease’s initial outbreak, or, act as if AAPIs are inherently more likely to be carriers. A wildlife conservation advocate was quoted by The New York Times as calling Chinese wet markets “a perfect laboratory” for creating new pathogens, while the same article contained buzzwords exoticizing Chinese tastes. These statements ignore the fact that non-AAPIs eat arguably “exotic” game meats as well, such as squirrel and jackrabbit. Additionally, those two specific animals have historically had the potential to transmit bubonic plague to humans, but we’re not likely to blame squirrel and rabbit-hunters for any plague outbreaks. In short, please treat your AAPI neighbors with respect and kindness. They are not any more responsible for the origin and transmission of COVID-19 than you are.
Second, we may have friends and relatives struggling abroad. As someone whose loved ones still live in Hong Kong, I’m worried. The city’s retail and tourism sectors have been absolutely decimated. Other parts of daily life, such as going to school and taking public transport, have been disrupted. We’re staring at a recession that will last far beyond the outbreak. Additionally, while Hong Kong has largely successfully contained COVID-19, other Asian cities and countries could be facing serious humanitarian disasters, especially if those areas don’t have the capacity to test, contain, and treat cases. Please make the extra effort to think about your AAPI community members. We’re already dealing with our own anxieties about loved ones abroad and bracing for racist and xenophobic actions against us. Don’t force us to reckon with any additional unnecessary panic and uncertainty.
Written by Anne. Anne is a 22 year old Chinese American and aspiring lawyer. She is obsessed with perfecting her smize.