We are facing a crisis that is unmatched in our lifetimes. The City of Milwaukee suffered its first Coronavirus related death on March 20. As of March 22, there has been 33,276 confirmed cases of Americans with the COVID-19 infection. Just six days ago the number was 4,661. So far 409 Americans have died due to the virus, compared to only 85 who had died six says ago. On the worldwide stage, 1,593 people died yesterday of Coronavirus and 1,651 died the day prior, for a total of 14,461 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
America is sorely lacking in tests completed, compared to other countries. States are ramping up the process, but combined we have only tested about 228,216 Americans according to the Coronavirus Tracking Project. Of those tested about 15% percent had confirmed positive results with many results still pending. Our lives are in turmoil at this point. It is not a time to mock or joke about the virus anymore. The only other time I can remember in my lifetime that was as challenging was after the 9/11 attacks.
I can clearly remember the 9/11 attacks. I was at work when co-workers rushed to get on the computer and see details of what was going on in New York. Of course the Internet was so busy we could not connect. Some of us ran to a conference room and watched television coverage. This was after the first plane hit. After a short time I went back to work but was called back after the second plane hit.
We were all in shock and the fear in the room was palpable. What could we do? Many got on the phone and called loved ones. I watched the aftermath for a period of time but had to get back to a big project I was working on. Later that night as I spent time catching up with the news coverage. I heard over and over that this day would change America.
As President Bush announced how we would seek revenge for the attacks, Americans appeared to rally around the flag. For a period of time it seemed we were all in the same boat. I heard people say time and time again that this crisis would allow us to transcend race and come together as a nation. We hugged it up and felt connected. We were delusional.
The feelings did not last. Because of the fact that the hijackers were from the Arab world, we began to see people being attacked. Anyone who appeared to be Arabs or Muslims were attacked verbally and physically across the country. Americans needed someone to blame.
The mood of the nation changed. Hatred towards Arabs and Muslims or those people mistakenly thought to be Arabs and Muslims grew exponentially. Hate crimes against those communities increased rapidly. A long history of being exposed to the stereotype of Arabs as terrorists, along with the background of the attackers activated the hate.
This hate is still quite prevalent. It led to the tragedy at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek in 2012 when innocent people were killed because an avowed White Supremacist killed people he thought were Muslims. My good friend Pardeep Kaleka lost his father in the attack. Muslim lawmakers have been attacked and called terrorists by many in our country.
In recent weeks Asian Americans have been attacked and blamed for the Coronavirus. It matters little to those who beat innocent people what their true nationality is. They don’t care if they are Chinese or Japanese or one of the dozens of other Asian groups. For these people they are all the same. Once again, some Americans need a scapegoat. They need someone to blame.
As the Coronavirus crisis continues to grow I believe we will see more attacks against Asian Americans on social media. The bullying that is taking place right now will expand as people suffer financially. It will be convenient to blame someone other than our systems that are supposed to protect us.
We will not blame the CDC for a lack of preparedness in the way that we should. Many will not blame the President who called this a “hoax” by the Democrats just a few weeks ago. We will not chastise the CDC for the mistake of not accepting test kits from China and other nation’s while we “developed” our own tests. “Made in America” ethnocentrism bit us in the behind and delayed our response and ability to test large numbers of people in the third largest country in the world. In South Korea 20,000 are being tested each day because they learned from the MERS (Middle East Respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2015 when 36 people died and put systems in place to be prepared for the next such outbreak.
Italy and Iran initially downplayed the threat and now have over 59,000 and 21,000 cases respectively Just a little over four weeks ago Italy had just three cases but today (March 23) 59,138 cases have been confirmed there despite placing the Northern region under lockdown and eventually the entire country on lockdown.
“Without testing, you have no idea how extensive the infection is. You can’t isolate people. You can’t do anything,” said Ashish Jha, who runs the Harvard Global Health Institute. “And so then we’re left with a completely different set of choices. We have to shut schools, events and everything down, because that’s the only tool available to us until we get testing back up.”
I hope that we can find a way to make it though a period that is causing the most disruptive time in our lives. I am not really concerned myself as to who is to blame. That will be discussed ad nauseam by many in the days and months to come.
As we analyze the victims of this horrendous tragedy we will see that the virus did not discriminate based on race or ethnicity or national origins. This virus has sickened people on every continent except Antarctica. As we practice social distancing to protect Americans I hope we take time as individuals to understand how fragile we are as a species.
A microscopic virus has the power to turn our world upside down. It does not matter if we are famous actors like Tom Hanks and Edris Elba. Multiple professional athletes around the world have tested positive. The virus does not care about their wealth or fame. Our shared humanity will be exposed for all to see. We should use this as a time to get past the ignorance of racism. This worldwide crisis should be a teachable moment for humanity. We are all in this together whether we like it or not.
After this passes, we will have learned a lot about ourselves. How we react to this changing world we face will be instructive. Will we truly be different as many thought we would be after 9/11?
We have the ability to change our attitudes and find a way to come together and stop discriminating. Based on our history, we will make the mistake of going back to business as usual like we did after 9/11 and continue to mistreat people based on differences. Only time will tell what we choose to do.
The White House