Photo courtesy of Shibuya246
It is flu season, and that means you can’t go five feet around campus without seeing someone coughing, sneezing or looking about as sick as everyone else feels. With midterms ramping up and students losing sleep over studying and stress, chances of getting sick only increases. This flu season, like most, has been very aggressive. An estimated 9.7 million cases of influenza have been reported this season along with almost 5,000 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control. Despite the constant threat that influenza imposes, if you asked UCI students what disease they were most worried about catching, the answer would probably be the coronavirus.
I envy the rock you live under if you have not heard about the global panic over the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), also nicknamed the “Wuhan Virus.” Originating in Wuhan, China, the virus is a highly aggressive strain that attacks the infected’s respiratory system, causing symptoms such as fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. In extreme cases, pneumonia and kidney failure can arise, which can lead to death if untreated.
Even though several nations, including the U.S., have put out travel advisories to China and placed restrictions on Chinese citizens entering the country, the virus has continued to spread. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus an international health emergency, and as it continues to spread, with it comes a whole new problem — panic.
Misinformation is especially frequent with outbreaks as severe and fear-inducing as this one. Much like with the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s, incorrect information about symptoms, warnings and methods of spreading the virus have become common. To combat this, the WHO, news stations and UCI have been bombarding the public with accurate and informative reports. Regardless of this, the general population is still very much in a state of panic.
As with anything important and panic inducing, the virus has inspired plenty of memes on UCI meme pages. From making UCI to stand for “University of Coronavirus Infection” to creating memes about catching the virus by making eye contact with someone who coughed (which you cannot do), the virus has become a topic of conversation among worried students. However, among the compilation of “China Virus” memes, most of which are meant to be harmless laughs, there are a hidden few that poke fun about “the kid who came back from China.” I understand everyone is scared, and the flu is only making people more paranoid, but there are plenty of “kids from China” that are just as scared and just as healthy as everyone else.
This unfortunately isn’t just an online trend. A recent confessions post by a UCI student explained how they had been harassed several times by complete strangers, being told to “Go back to China” (despite not even being Chinese) and to “Keep your virus to yourself.” This kind of derogatory and demeaning behavior is not only clearly racist, but also serves to make panic worse for the sake of what? Telling someone not to be sick? Or maybe it’s about something bigger than that.
Chances are, the people next to you in class interrupting lecture by coughing are actually suffering with this year’s flu, which I can say from personal experience is a nightmare. Those face masks you see people wearing all over campus, they’re being given out by the UCI Health Center to help prevent people from getting sick, not the other way around. If anything, the hordes of students in masks is a good sign, as people are keeping themselves safe and trying not to spread anything.
The biggest problem with the panic over the coronavirus is not the misinformation being spread, but the fact that sick students are being discriminated against simply because of their ethnicity. In the two weeks I was sick, during none of which I wore a mask (my bad), never did I get dirty looks or harassment from strangers, and I think the reason why is pretty clear. I’m white, and because I’m not “from China” I’m allowed to be sick. But when other students cough, simply because they’re Asian, it’s their fault and they’re the problem.
It’s natural to want something to blame when you’re scared, worried and slightly confused about the situation. But Chinese students are not your punching bag to make you feel better. They’re just as scared as you, if not more so now that they’re being blamed for everyone else’s suffering.
However, there is faith that things will get better. With racism becoming more prevalent surrounding the coronavirus, and people educating themselves on the issue, there are students who are calling out the hateful speech for what it is and encouraging a better inclusive environment, as we all should be. Since UCI is so well known for its Asian community, let’s not alienate and attack our fellow students because of a virus that affects us all equally. The coronavirus is scary no matter where you are from, let’s not make it worse for a select group of people.
Nathan Duggins is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.