[STAFF EDITORIAL] Stop the coronavirus jokes and stay informed

Jokes about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, have made its way into the hallways. But people need to stop laughing.


Lara Cayci

With the fear of COVID-19 increasing, the stereotype of Chinese people having the virus is being unrightfully perpetuated.

With a current death toll of over 2,700 and infecting over 80,000 people, the new coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China—officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization—is a grim force to be reckoned with. But COVID-19 has given rise to a range of side effects, from economic consequences to racism.

A Chinese student at Barnard University was warned to remain in her dorm room by college officials. In California, a 16-year-old boy was physically attacked by classmates accusing him of being infected by COVID-19. It’s not just limited to Chinese people, either; it affects Asians as a whole because in many cases, prejudiced people aren’t distinguishing between them. For example, two students in the UK were pelted by eggs because their attackers thought they were Chinese. They weren’t. 

It’s a bleakly global phenomenon, and it has happened here. In classrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria: casually-raised conspiracy theories and misinformation. Borderline or even blatantly racist memes and jokes that reinforce stereotypes about China. Small, insensitive comments about COVID-19 and its position as a virus originating from China often dismissed with a laugh. But people need to stop laughing.

Out of the more than 2,800 people who have died from COVID-19, only about 49 have occurred outside of mainland China. In other words, though it has been blown up by sensationalism, the most damaging effect of the virus is felt within China’s borders. This is a similar situation to the height of the Ebola virus, when everyone was panicking about the illness while it barely impacted those who were spreading fear.

People need to stop laughing.

Another comparison would be to the World War III memes that spread across social media in January—people were making jokes about tensions between the U.S. and Iran as a proclaimed coping method when in reality they were simply spreading misinformation about a situation that would not have the biggest impact on them. Rather, it would disproportionately affect Iranians. 

Similarly, the chances of an average American contracting COVID-19 are much, much lower than they are for people living near the Wuhan area, and yet fearmongering leads them to think otherwise. Additionally, those who are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 have proven to be the elderly, not teenagers. So for American high school students to make insensitive jokes about the situation “to cope” is simply ridiculous.

These jokes come from two directions: either students don’t think it’s that big of a deal or they’re overreacting to it. But instead of laughing about COVID-19 and spreading fear, find the middle ground by staying informed. 

Participate in events like the COVID-19 talk during Tutorial that Upper School science teachers organized to gain more an understanding of the situation. Ask classmates enrolled in Human Physiology this semester to talk about the projects that they just completed about COVID-19. 

Don’t just skim over sensationalist headlines—read articles from trusted sources. Understand the severity of the situation. Call out racism when it occurs, no matter how small its form may be, because it all adds up.