OPINION: Connecting Race with Illness: the Plight of the Coronavirus


Denaya Lewis

We need to shift our focus on how to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus rather than blaming and excluding an entire nationality. Illustration by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

Do I need a hazmat suit? Can I still eat Chinese food? How will I get on a plane? All these questions have risen with the new Coronavirus coming to light. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel Coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. At its worse, Coronavirus is essentially a very bad case of the flu.

Social media has a way of making light of more serious situations, and while that can be needed after long periods of grief, if can also become ugly when we equate certain illnesses with race. There are just some things that shouldn’t be joked about and calling a whole nationality of people “unclean” is one of them.

From 2014 to 2016, the Ebola outbreak caused a frenzy similar to Coronavirus, except this was associated with Africans and “black people being dirty.” It wasn’t funny then. People tend to forget that jokes aren’t funny when you’re the one being laughed at.

There have been cases of people refusing to sit next to Chinese people, refusing them healthcare and not allowing them into public spaces because of this virus. Most recently, singer Summer Walker took time out of her day to post about how people exposed to Coronavirus should not be allowed on planes. When fans called her out, she defended herself by saying “99% over there, they shouldn’t be allowed to come into a certain region and spread it any further.”

As stated before, Coronavirus is essentially a bad flu. The flu killed 10,000 people in the 2019-2020 season. Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, it has killed 810 people in China and 2 people outside of China. Washing your hands and not being around sick people is really the only measure you need, according to the World Health Organization.

Although the CDC is keeping a close eye on the Coronavirus outbreak, there have been around 12 confirmed cases in the United States. Actually, they are drilling a camp to quarantine them in Ashland, Nebraska, which is only 34 minutes away from Omaha.

Now the question we should be asking instead of can Chinese people get me sick?” should be, “What can I do to prevent Coronavirus?”

According to the CDC, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home when you are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

So, if you just practice standard health practices, you and the general public should be fine.