With the recent COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, heightened fear has manifested in selfish precautions and inappropriate humor to a racist extent. Reactions to the coronavirus have ranged from obsessively using hand sanitizer, choosing to physically isolate oneself, and buying an absurd amount of food in response to the possibility of a quarantine. While these are understandable ways to let off steam and channel stress caused by the rapidly spreading virus, they can be irrational and harmful to our community.
It is imperative that we be intentional and informed in the actions we take surrounding the coronavirus. Multiple petitions have circulated Berkeley High School (BHS) recently, with around a thousand signatures each, urging the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) administration to cancel school. Public comments on one change.org petition included, “F*ck school and I got lab tomorrow I ain’t tryna do that sh*t man.” While this action is prompted by some legitimate fear for the safety of our students, it is also being pushed for selfish reasons, such as getting out of tests, and it fails to recognize the drawbacks that come with school closure.
For one, BHS is not set up to conduct online schooling, as many students do not have access to technology or the internet. In addition, many families rely on BUSD to provide their children with a safe place to stay while they are at work. Since people with unstable economic standings are less able to take time off work for the coronavirus, school closures would affect them disproportionately. We should trust that the district, in accordance with the Alameda County Health Department’s recommendations, will make the right decision regarding the cancellation of school if there is an immediate threat to the safety of the students. For now, we must recognize our privilege of being able to beg for days off and understand that this is not a safe or viable option for many.
Some of the forms of “preparation” that Berkeley residents are practicing are irrational given the nature of the epidemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has simply and repeatedly recommended washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face. Instead, many people have been stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water, and face masks. We are preparing for a virus, not a total apocalypse, and we must approach it as such. There is not a current threat to our water supply nor our toilet paper supply, but there is a threat to the well-being of older people and those with immune deficiency. Hoarding supplies like face masks for your healthy self is not helping — it’s just taking away a necessary resource for those diagnosed with the coronavirus who are trying not to infect others, and those with medical conditions that make them more susceptible. Especially for young, healthy people: this is not a time to be acting selfishly. It is entirely valid to feel fear about this seemingly uncontrollable outbreak. However, that feeling must be channeled into supporting each other and the people who are more likely to be harmed by the coronavirus, not into insensitive, racist jokes or greedy, irrational precautions.
The fact that the virus originated in Wuhan, China has led to scapegoating of the Asian community at large and heightened racism. Furthermore, many have gone so far as to disseminate harmful information surrounding the virus across social media. When we don’t receive clear intel or a procedure to follow from a credible source, it becomes harder to act rationally. That being said, in this time of chaos, we must choose our sources of information wisely and put our faith in the district to make the right decisions.
While this virus is something that is mainly out of our hands, we do have a responsibility to face the problem with unity. We must not target or harass certain individuals who, according to our prejudices, are more likely to have it. This is a global issue; a common enemy that has the potential to act as a unifier among our community instead of dividing it.
The threat to the future that coronavirus poses is certainly unsettling. However, instead of contributing to the whirlpool of worldwide rumors and tension, proceed according to the information we have from the CDC, and don’t use these circumstances to reinforce your entitled, rebellious, or anti- Asian sentiments.