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COVID-19: An FAQ for Asian Americans



Greetings, fellow Asian Americans! While we prefer to discuss community issues at our secret monthly meetings, where we tackle such topics as whether it's time to reclaim Tiger Woods or if we should tell people what their Chinese tattoos really mean, the issues surrounding COVID-19 (aka coronavirus 2019) are urgent. Asian Americans are going through the same health worries as everyone else, plus stigma, discrimination, loss of business and even attacks, so we've put together this handy FAQ for community members.

What is COVID-19?

It's an upper-respiratory illness first identified last year in Wuhan, China. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats." Translation: Get ready for Greg at work to pivot from asking you for Thai food recommendations to side-eying your lunch and quizzing you about bat soup. While food has historically been a cultural bridge for Asians in America, it's also been a handy way to "other" and dehumanize us as "dog-eaters." Wild as it seems, the target market for cookie dough hummus is now clutching its pearls over our eating habits. Reassure Greg that since he's eaten a hot dog, the markets of Asia hold no surprises for him. Then microwave some kimchee while maintaining intense eye contact.

What's with the virus-related racism?

Some media outlets have been using random photos of Asian people with masks to illustrate stories about cases in totally different cities and countries. This is particularly troubling given how non-Asians mix us up even when they can see our entire faces. While we voted years ago that we're cool with Wu-tang Clan, we are decidedly against calling this the "Wuhan virus" or "Chinese coronavirus" as some have, because it revives classic stereotypes about non-white immigrants carrying disease. The CDC says a mere 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women in America wash their hands after using the bathroom. Consider sharing this information with strangers covering their noses and mouths next to you at the supermarket. (Maybe remind Greg to wash his hands when he returns to his workstation, too.)

What are the symptoms?

Fever, cough and shortness of breath are indicators, but not everyone manifests them. You should contact a doctor if you have symptoms after close contact with someone who's had the virus or if you've been somewhere with "widespread or ongoing community spread." Like Italy, where there are more than 9,000 confirmed infections. If you see a white person coughing, ask about their recent trips to Europe. Start your question with, "I don't want to sound racist but ..." — that always puts people at ease.

How do I avoid getting sick?

Believe it or not, you can protect yourself and others without being racist or rude. The CDC offers simple suggestions: avoiding close contact with sick people, stay home if you're sick and wash your hands frequently. (Looking at you, 69 percent of men — WTF, men? — and 35 percent of women.) We recommend washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds while singing the chorus to BTS's "Boy with Luv." Use a facemask if you have symptoms, but Asian Jesus Steve Aoki, it is going to freak people out.

Is this all a hoax?

Nope. But according to some right-wing media, COVID-19 is a vast deep state conspiracy against the president or, as Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning trash pile Rush Limbaugh stated on his show, merely "the common cold." Conspiracy theorists lean toward a Chinese government-engineered chemical weapon. All of this detracts from cherished racist theories about icky and terrifying foreigners. Thoughts and prayers for conservative talk radio hosts and your jackass cousin during this confusing time.

Is it wrong to fake-cough my way to the front of the line at Costco?

Yes, it is very wrong. Do it.

What about South Asians?

So far, the panic seems to be focused on East Asians. South Asian Americans can go back to worrying about random airport searches, racist attacks, general hostility and the sudden revocation of your right to travel if you're Muslim. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Are there any silver linings?

A pandemic seems like a good time to diplomatically opt out of hugging people you hardly know. You might enjoy more room on public transportation if you can ignore the paranoid vibe. Also Asian women may see a small drop in the number of Cobra Kai bros sidling up to say ni hao or konnichiwa, and announce how into Eastern philosophy they are. Creepy dudes twice your age, however, will likely continue to shoot their shot.

Should we panic?

Panic never helps in a health crisis. Stick to the recommended precautions and try not to worry over the videos and articles about harassment. It's not like the government would round us up and imprison us for public safety, right? And just because stocks are down and Coachella's postponed doesn't mean anyone's looking for a scapegoat. Besides, we'll return to our status as a clean, hardworking model minority as soon as Fox News needs to make systemic racism seem like black and brown folks' fault again. Probably in the time it takes to wash your hands.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal and prefers she/her. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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