Vander Graaff: Stop sensationalizing coronavirus

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Armageddon has intrigued our society for a long time. Think 1999, when we thought the world was going to end. Or think 2012, when we thought it was going to end again. 

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This infatuation with the end of the world makes sense in some ways. There’s so much in our world to fear: climate change, violence, natural disasters. Sometimes our politics or personal lives get so complicated that it truly can feel like the world is ending. But that’s no excuse to sensationalize the bad things that happen in our world to make them seem worse than they really are. This includes coronavirus.

Coronavirus has infected people around the world and has tragically taken the lives of some. It presents a public health crisis, and we must take steps to prevent it from spreading anymore. But that doesn’t mean we should sensationalize the illness and, in doing so, encourage one another to live in fear. 

In the face of national hysteria over something that is a common occurrence in our world, the misinformation surrounding Coronavirus is more dangerous than the illness itself.”

Although research into the illness is still in the early stages, BBC reports that researchers currently estimate that about 9 in 1,000 people infected with coronavirus will die — a mortality rate of about 1%. And of that 1%, the largest number of deaths occurs in those who are elderly or have preexisting health conditions.

To put this in perspective, 1-5% of college students are likely to get mononucleosis each year. Of the 20 million new sexually transmitted disease cases reported every year, half of the cases come from people between the ages of 15-24.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the 2016-17 flu season, 29 million people in America experienced symptoms of the flu, and 500,000 people were hospitalized for these symptoms. Despite this, in 2017 only 46% of college students reported getting vaccinated regularly.

In part because of its suddenness, coronavirus is a scary thing. But so are these other illnesses, and not only do people stay calm about them, but they fail to take the most basic precautions to prevent them, such as not sharing drinks or getting a flu shot.

In the face of national hysteria over illness, which is a common occurrence in our world, the misinformation surrounding coronavirus is more dangerous than the illness itself.

Media giants, such as The New York Times, are publishing multiple pieces about the virus every day, with sensationalist headlines that highlight the destruction caused by the epidemic. Social media sites have exploded with conspiracy theories about the disease, including claims that the Gates Foundation created it or that virus is the result of a bioweapon.

Even government institutions have joined in on the misinformation. 

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According to CNN, Wisconsin Merrill Police Department created a post on social media encouraging people who have recently purchased meth to bring it to the station to get it tested for coronavirus as a way to make more arrests.

Although this is not technically entrapment, it demonstrates the willingness of government officials to capitalize on a crisis to further their own agendas at the expense of the people, which raises concerns for citizens’ right to information and trustworthy law enforcement. 

The fear surrounding the illness has also led to many racist actions toward the Asian American community.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, owners of shops and restaurants in the Chinese business sector of New York City have reported drops in sales and foot traffic, as people are afraid of contracting the virus.

BBC reports that in California, an Asian American student was beaten after being accused of having the virus. False documents claiming to be from the World Health Organization were found around Los Angeles, advising people to avoid Panda Express and other Asian American restaurants. 

If you are really concerned about Coronavirus, start advocating for healthcare and disease prevention policies, and stop retweeting jokes about being afraid to go outside because you might catch it.”

Illness is a culturally accepted reason to avoid others, but it is unacceptable to use it as an excuse to discriminate against people based on their race. Avoiding any person or business just because of its possible association with the entire continent of Asia can have extremely negative social and economic impacts on that community.

We should take precautions to prevent illness but be hyper aware of the reasons we feel the need to be careful in the first place. There is a big difference between moving away from someone on a bus because they sneezed and moving away from someone simply because they appear to be of Asian descent.

Exaggerating the impact of coronavirus is a dangerous thing because it invokes hysteria, which has the potential to overpower logic. It means that on top of combating the virus, we also have to combat misinformation and racism.

If you are really concerned about coronavirus, start advocating for healthcare and disease prevention policies, and stop retweeting jokes about being afraid to go outside because you might catch it. Just take a breath and go wash your hands instead.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegain.com or Twitter at @abbym_vg