January was a wild beginning to the year, but perhaps the most radical thing to emerge from the first month was the coronavirus outbreaks.
Chinese people should not be blamed for the coronavirus epidemic. Humankind sees a new epidemic more frequently than not. In the past 15 years alone, we’ve seen swine flu, Zika virus and Ebola virus sweeping the nation. Epidemics just happen, they aren’t carried by just one type of person.
Part of why people are blaming Asians—and Chinese people in particular—is because of the Lunar New Year. An important date for many Asians, Lunar New Year is one of the days with the highest volume of Asian migration of the year. China did not impose travel restrictions before people began to travel for the holiday and because the virus is contracted by human interactions, some carriers of the illness were able to travel.
The jokes we see on social media about avoiding Chinese people due to the recent outbreaks are xenophobic and encourage the alienation of Asians, who are arguably the ones most affected by the virus.
Just last week, a Chinese man living in Australia died of a suspected fatal heart attack amidst bystanders who were afraid that if they gave him CPR, they would contract coronavirus—the man was not a carrier.
At the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, a Chinese teaching assistant was asked by students to wear a facemask because they were afraid she carried the virus—she had not been to China in over a year.
Coronavirus is just like any other epidemic we’ve had. It can only be prevented by practicing good hygiene like washing hands often, not touching your face and wearing facemasks. Avoiding Asian people under the guise that you’re afraid of contracting coronavirus is xenophobic and immature. Take care of yourself and you should be fine. We should take the time to check in on our Chinese and Asian peers–offer them compassion and kindness amidst a time when the public is blaming them for something out of their control.