Disease and Panic

By Susanna Penfield

Last week, U.S. officials declared a public health emergency, and as a result, on Friday the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued its first quarantine order in 50 years.  Prompted by increasing diagnoses of the coronavirus and the rising death toll in China, foreign nationals who have traveled there in the last two weeks (and who aren’t immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents) will be temporarily banned from entering the U.S. Anyone entering the U.S. who has been in China’s Hubei province in the last two weeks will be subject to a two-week quarantine, and to compound it further, American, Delta, and United airlines have suspended all flights to the country. 

Such notices have led to rising panic in the U.S. — made evident by the rampant spread of misinformed social media posts and alarmist updates. Facebook, in particular, has been saturated with false claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, such as the idea that drinking bleach will get rid of it. The social network has been forced to take action and announced plans to remove such content with the aid of health officials. 

Through declarations of emergency and language laced with impending doom, the U.S. government has participated in the dissemination of fear. While worldwide numbers may be alarming, in situations like these it becomes important to retain perspective. Chinese officials announced Monday that 20,438 cases of the novel coronavirus had been confirmed in the country, an increase of 3,235 cases from Sunday evening. Officials also reported that 64 people died in the Hubei province, bringing the country’s death toll to 425. 

In China, threat is imminent. In the U.S., however, you’re more likely to die from the regular flu — which has already claimed 10,000 lives in the U.S. this season. This is not to minimize the potential impact of the disease, nor to erase the deaths of those who have been claimed by the coronavirus in the U.S., of which 11 are confirmed. It is to say, however, that part of maintaining wellness is the ability to relativize panic. 

Stress is a breeding ground for ailment. Unrelieved stress not only causes but also exacerbates both anxiety disorders and physical problems. By deliberately constructing panic, individuals, news organizations, and political bodies alike create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the stress of impending illness heightens the chance of contracting illness, whether that is the coronavirus or not. 

In such situations, we must be able to distinguish between the time for fear and the time for empathy. A significant portion of the student body at CC is from China and have family and friends who are currently there. We live in a country with strong epidemic prevention capabilities. Rather than focus on unfounded panic for a disease that has yet to reach the levels seen elsewhere in the world, support the individuals who need it, and prioritize maintenance of your own overall wellness. 

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