Surgery Masks And Scapegoats: Unity In The Face Of COVID-19

Coronavirus (Image source: U.S. Department of State)

The number of those infected has risen to over 10,000 in Nassau County, and with schools closed until further notice, many young Asian-Americans like myself are sitting at home wondering just what has happened leading up to this point.

Since its discovery in Wuhan, China, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected more than 800,000 and killed more than 40,000. But COVID-19 leaves another form of destruction in its wake as well: the propagation of anti-Chinese discrimination in a world bound on finding someone to blame.

Katherine Oung, a high schooler in West Palm Beach, reported in a New York Times video that a friend and classmate of three years said at school that those of Chinese descent  “are disgusting. They’ll eat any type of animal.” Oung said “it felt like a stab to the chest.”

On Feb. 5, an Asian woman wearing a face mask was attacked in a subway station in New York City after being called a “diseased b*tch” by her assaulter. 

The media has played its role in spreading racially-tainted coverage. A New York Times piece titled on the woman who contracted the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the state originally featured a picture of predominantly-Chinese Flushing, despite the woman having contracted the disease while travelling in Iran.

On March 2, Fox News host Jesse Watters, during a discussion about the coronavirus on The Five, asked that the Chinese government formally apologize for the coronavirus. Watters continued, saying people in China are eating raw bats and snakes because its government cannot feed its people. 

The world is fixated on finding a scapegoat, and the majority of it seems to have picked China and those of Chinese descent. Why does Watters not call out Iran, from which the first reported case in the U.S. came from, or even the U.S. itself for not implementing travel restrictions in time?

China itself is not without fault. Government corruption and censorship plagued the early days of the coronavirus response, and if there’s one thing the Chinese government should apologize for, it’s the gross negligence and mismanagement of the virus. But in his misguided soliloquy, Watters holds the culinary choices of a few Chinese people responsible for the consequences of government actions.

In times like these, the question we ask should not be “Who started the virus?” but rather “How can we fight the virus as efficiently as possible?” Only in unity can we stop all the harms caused by COVID-19.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has set a great example for us. On Feb. 21 it put forth a “Letter of Support to Our Friends in the Chinese American and Chinese Communities”, expressing solidarity and support towards the xenophobia experienced by many. The letter, signed by more than 70 organizations was very well-received in my local Great Neck region, a place with both large Jewish and Chinese communities.

Leave deducing the origins of COVID-19 to the scientists. We cannot let misguided perceptions get in the way of putting an end to this pandemic.

—The author Nick Liu is a ninth grade student at Great Neck South High School

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