Today’s column is bound to generate a heap of feedback, and I’m prepared for it. I welcome your comments, whether critical or concurring. Please note: I am not a medical professional or public health expert, nor do I profess to know more about COVID-19 than the average citizen. However, as an experienced print and broadcast journalist, I probably know more about the average citizenry than most.
As a longtime observer of society and human nature, I’m seriously concerned about the COVID-19 situation. It’s not the virus itself that has me worried; it’s the public reaction. Hoarding of toilet paper and face masks, race-based distrust, fear of human contact. While we saw examples of these during past epidemics including SARS and Ebola, COVID-19 has apparently spurred universal panic.
I think the prevalence of social media is largely responsible. The average person has instant access to an endless stream of news, both factual and fake. But very few make the effort to check the reliability of these sources, and many folks don’t even notice the disclaimers on parody news sites. The old saw, “Don’t believe everything you read,” has never been more imperative or more ignored.
I’m disturbed by Facebook conversations between friends who discount each other’s posts with a terse “Fake news!” I’m dismayed when they descend into personal attacks and name-calling. And I’m disheartened by recent reports of these online disputes becoming real-time, real-life confrontations.
If you Google “coronavirus hate crime,” you’ll find cases, reported by legitimate news agencies, like the New York woman who punched another woman in the face after shouting, “Where’s your corona mask, you Asian b—-?” On the NYC subway, a security camera captured video of a belligerent man spraying an Asian passenger with a can of Febreeze. And BBC reports at least six similar incidents in which Asian victims were punched, kicked and spat upon while being told to “go back to your coronavirus country.”
The panic buying is puzzling to me. As one meme put it: How does “wash your hands” translate to “buy all the toilet paper?” I suppose people are snatching up TP as part of an emergency plan to have 14 days worth of essentials in your home. But aren’t we all supposed to have that contingency kit on hand, in case of hurricanes or other natural disasters?
Regarding face masks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend their use by healthy people for protection against the virus, but states that “face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.” Some epidemiologists have suggested that the only real benefit of wearing a mask for protection is that the mask will prevent you from touching your own nose and mouth.
Political polarization combined with the proliferation of questionable news sources has led to the loss of faith and trust in our government to do the right thing or even tell us the whole truth. Personally, I believe the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) when they say that common sense precautions like hand-washing and surface sanitation will help protect us from this or any other virus.
I follow those guidelines religiously because my emcee work has me aboard the NCL Pride of America (provided I pass the temperature check) every Sunday, as well as weekly, sometimes twice-weekly, flights to Oahu, where I come into contact with hundreds of visitors to the luau shows I host.
Now, here’s the kicker. In a couple of weeks, my mother and I are scheduled to take a seven-day Princess cruise off the California coast. Yes, we know about the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, and no, we’re not planning to cancel. The cruise line emailed us a list of the heightened precautions they now employ, and we’re confident in their vigilance.
I realize that, at 94 years of age, my mother is part of the most susceptible population, but she’s unwilling to live in confinement and fear. Before you send me admonishing emails, please note: I’m not taking her on this cruise. She’s the one taking me.
And we’re both taking lots of hand sanitizer.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.