By Samantha Wahl
Every few years a new scare plagues the U.S., creating, quite literally, a viral nightmare. Think Mad Cow Disease in 2000, the Bird Flu in 2004, and Ebola in 2014. Whatever the affliction, Americans have a reputation for sounding health scare alarms with speakers pointed at foreign countries.
Enter the Wuhan coronavirus.
Here’s What We Know
China has reported an estimated 20,500 cases and 427 deaths since discovering the illness. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Complications lead to death. Furthermore, epidemiologists are weighing the possibility that the virus could yield a death rate of up to 1%, which is incredibly high.
By now, any American with a pulse has heard about it. And most are terrified. Some sources are even calling the outbreak a pandemic. But, health officials have only reported 11 cases so far in the U.S. Death toll: zero.
So, why does the virus intimidate us so much? Viewers are bound to worry when every news outlet is covering the same story, day after day. And the possibility of death is a natural-occurring fear. While the virus is real, the hysteria surrounding it stinks of xenophobia.
Xenophobia Drives the American Outlook
We can’t ignore the fact that Americans are systematically racist. White people especially are quick to blame disasters on specific groups of people. Perhaps the most blatant demonstration of such is present in our use of social media.
A quick search of the hashtag, “coronaviruschina,” on Twitter and Instagram exposes hundreds of racist memes. World Animal News speculates the infection originated from the illegal wildlife trade. Comments that follow include, “That’s what they get,” “Of course. They eat anything,” and, “Karma?”
View this post on Instagram
As the spread of the deadly #Coronavirus is currently affecting much of mainland #China leaving more than 420 people dead, Chinese authorities recently announced a nationwide ban on the wildlife trade in markets, supermarkets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. 🦇🚫 – The announcement comes amid rising speculation that the deadly coronavirus arose within a market in the City of #Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. The cramped, highly unsanitary conditions under which wild animals are illegally traded and sold for human consumption in such markets is known to create the ideal conditions for viruses to mutate into particularly virulent forms, with the potential to cross the species barrier to humans, sometimes with fatal consequences. – Experts with the World Health Organization (@WHO) say there’s a high likelihood the new coronavirus came from bats. But it might have made the jump to a currently unknown animal group before humans could be infected. – 🚨The World Health Organization has also made it clear that there is no evidence that dogs or cats can be infected with the Coronavirus. Due to false rumors, some Chinese residents have begun killing their pets, mistakenly believing that they can contract the virus from them. 🐕💔🐈 – READ MORE: 🌍👉WorldAnimalNews.com (LINK IN OUR BIO)👆@worldanimalnews_ @peace_4animals #WorldAnimalNews
A now deleted Instagram post by the University of California, Berkeley cited xenophobia as a “common reaction” to the contagion. Its layout disguising the bullet point as a scientific fact:
Confused and honestly very angry about this Instagram post from an official @UCBerkeley Instagram account.
When is xenophobia ever a “normal reaction”? pic.twitter.com/hH4AgQKluM
— Adrienne Shih (@adrienneshih) January 30, 2020
What About Influenza?
Meanwhile, the flu is a leading cause of death the across the country. It has been for years. There are more than 10,000 reported flu-related deaths from the 2019-2020 flu season alone. That doesn’t include the 180,000 people hospitalized. Consider these stats, then consider the 427 deaths caused by the coronavirus.
Of course, like any definitive study, researchers will need to gather data over a longer period of time. This is the first major outbreak of this particular virus in global history. Scientists can’t directly compare its magnitude to that of the flu, which has been around for centuries.
According to NPR, Scientists predict the flu outbreak will likely end by April. The end of the Wuhan coronavirus, however, is uncertain.
But why do we panic at the mere mention of this sickness, while we treat the flu like any old cold? If this proves anything, it’s that Americans fear the unknown, which is also the racist foundation of colonialism and America itself.
Nobody is suggesting we approach the coronavirus with indifference. It’s important to approach it like any health hazard. But this could be the perfect time to use our power on social media (and everywhere) to acknowledge the racist undertones its discussion prompts.
So, sure, cover your mouth when you cough. But don’t use a virus as an excuse to be a bigot.