Speaking truth to the COVID-19 outbreak

Fear, racism can be just as contagious as disease

Luke Peterson, Guest Writer

Like most students, I started out my Western New Years enjoying my three-week winter break. I was a student at Southwest Minzu University in the city of Chengdu, located in the central province of Sichuan, China. I was doing a yearlong study abroad in the country and decided to stay over Christmas break since I was loving the experience so much.

Around Jan. 13, our next semester began and our lives were once again occupied with class time and study. However, there was something different than before. A rumor of a virus spreading in the province of Hubei, an area only one province away from my host in Sichuan, started to spread throughout the country. 

Everyday, my Chinese teacher would give updates to how many were infected in China. Three became nineteen, nineteen became forty-two and so on. It was not long until we heard news of the virus reaching Chengdu, and reality started to hit me and my fellow classmates. Streets became empty, grocery stores were sold out and men in hazmat suits patrolled the streets spraying disinfectant. 

As we began our Chinese New Year break, we eventually heard our classes might be cancelled as schools across the nation began to shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. 

It turned out to be true, and many of us did not know what to do. We all anticipated being evacuated and learned one early morning that our program was cancelled and were to immediately vacate China. Many of us were forced to leave our possessions and newfound life within hours as flights back to the US were being restricted. 

I was the last one of my class to leave China.         

None of us ever thought we would go through this experience or that any of this would happen. Our journey back to the U.S. included health screenings, tiring layovers, cancelled flights and interviews, but most of us were just worried about our Chinese friends and teachers we were leaving behind. 

COVID-19 would become something no one ever expected, and its rapid spread caught world governments by surprise. 

The majority of the virus is located in the metropolis city of Wuhan, Hubei but the virus now plagues all twenty-six provinces of China. As of this week, the number of infected across the world has supposedly almost reached 100,000 and the death toll is now around 2,500 to 3,000. The virus has also recently reached more than thirty countries, with South Korea, Iran and Italy seeing the worst outbreaks after mainland China. 

Stateside, the U.S. has seen few infections with the majority of affected Americans coming from the Diamond Princess cruise off the coast of Japan, who have been quarantined and have received proper care. 

But this does not mean we as Americans should not pay attention to the spread of COVID-19 and health safety here in the U.S. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that the spread of the virus is inevitable here in the United States, but that people should not panic. 

When it comes to epidemics such as SARS and MERS, or now COVID-19, the most important thing to remember is not to panic and follow everyday health safety standards such as washing hands and coughing into a tissue or upper sleeve of your arm. 

These standards are even more important for schools and universities in the U.S. Even though SPU may be a smaller campus compared to others in the Seattle area, I heavily recommend every SPU student follow these basic standards to keep the campus healthy.  

I, briefly, would also like to bring attention to another problem that has arisen from the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Lately, there has been a surge of racially motivated incidents towards Chinese and other Asian people through social media or in public. If you witness an incident such as this, do not let it happen again. A virus can originate in any area, and can be caused by any number of reasons. 

Racism toward a people because of a disease that happened to form in their country is wrong and should be confronted. 

I would once again like to stress how important it is not to panic and to keep yourself clean. Try to receive information from reliable sources as the spread of misinformation can create panic. 

If you have any questions about COVID-19, the CDC’s website has information on the virus itself, measures to prevent it, travel advisories and current updates. This will eventually end, but currently, as a community, the best we can do is prevent the spread and pray for those affected.