Is Your Hot Take About the Coronavirus Racist?

January 31, 2020

Signs point to yes.


The coronavirus. You’ve heard of it. If not, you probably haven’t read the news for the past two weeks. The coronavirus has been making headlines recently after an outbreak originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and has been identified by Chinese officials. The novel coronavirus is a respiratory illness. While China has been the country most affected by the virus, there have been some cases reported elsewhere, including in the United States. 


The CDC website states, “While CDC considers this is a very serious public health threat, based on current information the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time.” Yet, U.S. citizens seem to be freaking out about this virus, even though it has barely even touched the U.S. 


The roughly 107 people who have died from the virus have all been in China. Freaking out anytime you see a Chinese person (or let’s be honest any Asian person, because you don’t actually know where anyone is from and are just reactionary) doesn’t do anything except create a stigma. 




This mirrors similar reactions by U.S. citizens to any illness or virus that originates in a “non-western” country (these categorizations of the world are stupid but that’s for a different time). Remember Ebola and the complete media and social media freak out that happened in 2014? Only 11 cases were present in the U.S., with most cases having been contracted outside of the U.S. There were also only two deaths from the virus within the U.S. Instead of caring about the people of West Africa where the virus originated and had the strongest impact, people in the U.S. were freaked out, with some public schools closing for a day at even the faintest possibility and institutions placed travel restrictions on their students and staff. 


Why do people in the U.S. only seem to care about illnesses and viruses originating somewhere else instead of more domestic threats? The CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza. There has also been a measles outbreak in the U.S. recently (due to people not vaccinating their children). Why aren’t y’all worried about that?


Now there are several issues with the coverage of and reaction to the outbreak of the coronavirus. News outlets have been adding fuel to the fire with their reactionary headlines. The New York Times reported on the virus, reporting solely on the assumption that the virus has been linked to wildlife sold at a market. “China’s Omnivorous Markets Are in the Eye of a Lethal Outbreak Once Again.” As twitter user @ mal_praxis pointed out, “Germans eat cheese flavored with live mites. From Romania to the US folks eat heaping piles of pig brains. This whole ‘coronavirus outbreak is caused by Chinese people eating weird shit’ isn’t based on anything other than casual racism.”


Anna is a senior English major with minors in Women and Gender Studies and Art History.


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