News about the coronavirus has been changing quickly. As of the morning of March 4, the number of reported cases has reached 92,800 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 60 coronavirus cases and six deaths in the U.S. as of March 3. This has caused some Americans to be concerned with this outbreak, and misconceptions about the effectiveness of face masks and how the virus spreads have made it harder to effectively fight the outbreak. Therefore, it is important to be aware of false information about the coronavirus to make informed choices about how to prevent the disease, especially now Georgia has two confirmed cases.
One of the biggest myths circulating around the internet is the need for face masks for those who are healthy. According to the World Health Organization, face masks should only be used for people who are sick and for those working around patients, and they are used to ensure that people who are experiencing symptoms of coughing and sneezing are not spreading their germs to others.
According to CDC Director Robert Redfield, this hysteria for face masks has created a worldwide shortage of masks for doctors who are directly working with patients, and it is putting these doctors and others caring for patients at risk.
Therefore, people with less risk of infection should not be stockpiling necessary protective equipment that is desperately needed by health professionals in China who are on the front lines fighting this virus.
Another issue that arose from fears of this virus is xenophobia toward people of Asian descent. Since the epicenter of the outbreak is in Wuhan, China, people have reacted negatively towards the Asian population around the world, reminiscent of the backlash toward Asians during the SARS outbreak.
Due to the fear around the unknown cause and possible fatal consequence of SARS, Western media exaggerated the fatality rate of SARS in Asia by comparing it to the Spanish flu that killed 50 million people according to a 2004 study published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.
This issue of xenophobia has been normalized, highlighted by a now-deleted post on the University of California, Berkeley’s Instagram account. In the Instagram post, UC Berkeley listed xenophobia as a “common reaction” to the coronavirus. The post received much backlash from the Asian student population at UC Berkeley, which comprises around a third of the student population according to UC Berkeley’s student enrollment data.
The headlines are scary, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. According to the CDC, influenza caused 18,000-46,000 deaths from Oct. 1, 2019, to Feb. 22 in the U.S., whereas the coronavirus has killed six people in the U.S.
It is normal to be worried about an outbreak. However, misinformation and xenophobia will only exacerbate this issue for citizens and health professionals. This panic may be detrimental to the health professionals in China who need protective equipment, and it proves to be an issue when civilians in low-risk countries are walking around with the very masks that doctors need and using the virus as an excuse to express xenophobia and deeply-rooted anti-Asian sentiments toward the Asian population.