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Pandemic Moment: your guide to critically thinking about information

Ebola kids

During the Ebola crisis, Thomas Duncan, a Liberian ebola patient had the misfortune of succumbing to the disease on American soil, in a Dallas hospital.  In the aftermath of his death, local kids, with no connection to Mr. Duncan, were branded as Ebola kids, all because they shared a similar heritage and skin color with the victim.  This particular advance of racism was reported by media outlets including CNN.

It has also been suggested that Mr. Duncan's status as a poor, uninsured Black man played a role in the degree of health attention he received.

Writing about racism in the American health care system, the New York Times draws attention to an op-ed written by the nephew of Mr. Duncan.  A section is reproduced here.

"Mr. Weeks writes that his uncle came to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas with a high fever and stomach pain, admitting that he had recently been to Liberia. “But he was a man of color with no health insurance and no means to pay for treatment, so within hours he was released with some antibiotics and Tylenol,” Mr. Weeks says.

Why was he sent back home? That, Mr. Weeks says, is the “biggest unanswered question” about Mr. Duncan’s death. “Thomas Eric Duncan was a victim of a broken system,” Mr. Weeks writes."

The same Times article contacted Robin Wright, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the United States Institute of Peace, about the Ebola scare in America.  She had the following to say that the disease, 

“ increasing racial profiling and reviving imagery of the ‘Dark Continent’” in both Europe and the United States. “The disease is persistently portrayed as West African, or African, or from countries in a part of the world that is racially black, even though nothing medically differentiates the vulnerability of any race to Ebola.”

Ms. Wright adds that as the panic over Ebola deepens, “the danger is that racism — on planes and public transportation, in lines, on streets, in glances — deepens further, too."

Just as it the responsibility of Americans, and citizens of the world to pay attention to the advice of their local health authorities, it is equally vital that we do not let the pandemic fear obstruct our goodness by racializing our view of the outbreak.

Preserving our goodness is complicated and compromised when the President of the United States practices anti-Chinese sentiment in the pandemic environment.

Chinese Virus

In the time of covid-19, we find that brooding racism is being uttered by the President of the United States.  Donald Trump continually refers to covid-19 as the "Chinese Virus." (March 18) This terminology parallels rising levels of anti-Chinese sentiment in America.

Reporting for the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr. write, (March 24)

"As the coronavirus upends American life, Chinese-Americans face a double threat. Not only are they grappling like everyone else with how to avoid the virus itself, they are also contending with growing racism in the form of verbal and physical attacks. Other Asian-Americans — with families from Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar and other places — are facing threats, too, lumped together with Chinese-Americans by a bigotry that does not know the difference."

They go on to say that the nature of anti-Asian sentiment resembles the anti-Muslim expressions following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.  However, they point out that in 2001 President George W. Bush urged tolerance of Muslims whereas President Trump is using language that Asian-Americans say incite racism and racist attacks.

This dangerous trend is echoed by Allyson Chiu, writing for the Washington Post.  She has the following to say: (March 20)

"Scores of Asian Americans nationwide have already reported being targeted in verbal and physical attacks linked to coronavirus fears. Meanwhile, conservative media figures and Republican leaders have ignored guidances from health officials urging people to avoid talking about the virus in nonneutral terms, peppering their TV hits and social media posts with phrases such as "Wuhan virus" and "Chinese coronavirus.

Now that the president has joined in, referring to the virus this week as the “Chinese Virus” and repeatedly defending the label, the situation for Asian Americans is likely about to go from bad to worse, several experts told The Post."

In our own critical thinking about information, and its effects, we should follow closely the advice of health professionals covering out political geography, including the World Health Organization (WHO).  On this subject the WHO speaks very clearly. In a 2015 media release, the WHO discusses naming conventions for new human infectious diseases.

Part of the statement is reproduced below:

"The best practices state that a disease name should consist of generic descriptive terms, based on the symptoms that the disease causes (e.g. respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome, watery diarrhoea) and more specific descriptive terms when robust information is available on how the disease manifests, who it affects, its severity or seasonality (e.g. progressive, juvenile, severe, winter). If the pathogen that causes the disease is known, it should be part of the disease name (e.g. coronavirus, influenza virus, salmonella).

Terms that should be avoided in disease names include geographic locations (e.g. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever), people’s names (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu, monkey pox), cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g. legionnaires), and terms that incite undue fear (e.g. unknown, fatal, epidemic)."

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