Pandemic best practices: How to avoid unhelpful language and behavior around COVID-19

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle
Photo by Beth May

Recently, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Due to the paranoia and fear that a global health emergency causes, people have found themselves responding to the situation in a number of unhelpful ways. Racist language, microaggressions, resource hoarding, and spreading inaccurate information have been just some of the ways people have sought to cope with this situation. In light of these facts, here is a list of some best practices during an outbreak that can help us all avoid making an already difficult time even worse.

Use the technical name for the virus

Though some people have taken to calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan Virus” or the “China Virus,” this type of language is extremely unhelpful and isolating to the Chinese community and the wider Asian community as a whole. Through labelling the virus as such, it implies that Chinese people are to blame for the outbreak, and it can stop people from seeing the virus for what it is: an objective threat that arose through no fault of any one person or group. Names that implicate the Chinese community can cause the already rampant paranoia people are experiencing to increase. This paranoia can cause people to displace the fear and anger they may be feeling onto those who seem most directly connected to the virus itself — those who the virus may be wrongly nicknamed after. This displacement causes unfair reactions of violence, avoidance, and racist speech. All of these behaviors do nothing to combat the real threat — the virus itself — and will only cause harm to those who do not deserve it. So, when referring to the virus, use the technical term of COVID-19. This name is not loaded with blame, but is instead an objective term that everyone can understand and relate to.

Be mindful of microaggressions

It’s normal to have anxiety and fear when a viral outbreak happens. Everyone has them, and you cannot always control your immediate thoughts. However, it’s important to remember that your actions, and what you really believe deep down, are much more important than any fleeting thoughts you might have due to fear. 

Microaggressions are already a problem in society — they are small gestures, looks, or words that make marginalized people feel painfully isolated from the general public. During this outbreak, some of these microaggressions could include physically distancing yourself from people who are of Asian descent, pulling up your scarf as you near an Asian person to protect your face and nose, or lingering looks of nervousness or fear. All of these actions, no matter their intention, show the person that you believe there is some reason to be afraid of them. Despite the fact that many Asian citizens are born and raised in the country where they currently reside, and many immigrants have no more chance of contracting the virus than anyone else, these people are unfairly targeted as though they innately carry a plague. This kind of behavior contributes to issues such as members of the Asian community feeling disinclined from seeking medical care for their flu symptoms for fear of being discriminated against further. It also contributes to a culture of hate and anger that has no place in society. 

Working together to prepare for mindfully combating an illness is the only way to contain it. Distancing emotionally and morally from a chunk of the population, and treating them in a hateful manner, contributes to the spread of the virus. Social and empathetic togetherness, and creating physical instead of sympathetic distance, helps to limit it.

Adopt a perspective of compassion and unity 

During this time of fear and upheaval, when our future feels uncertain and the fate of the many is in the hands of the few, compassion and unity are some of the most important tools we have. Through showing solidarity with countries overseas and having empathy for other people with our community, we can quiet some of the fear that is permeating society. It’s important to remember that, in our own times of need, we often want others to show us kindness and respect. This means we should do the same for as many people as we can. Doing things like hoarding more food or supplies than necessary is an act of privilege that disproportionately affects the poor, elderly, and those in rural communities who don’t have the money or ability to buy more than they need. Purchasing supplies to last the recommended two weeks is a display of solidarity with your fellow man that will help all of us weather this storm. The truth is that the world has faced illnesses like this before. We will get through it. It is the countries and communities with the least money, the most people and the most limited resources and healthcare that stand to lose the most to COVID-19. Offering support, compassion, and keeping a mind toward togetherness will lessen the negative impacts that are a result of this illness and allow those who are suffering get the supplies and help they need. When those who are infected get the help they need, we all benefit, because we all survive better. 

Educate yourself on the virus

One of the most dangerous parts of any outbreak is misinformation. This can sometimes be spread by news outlets, but most often it is spread by the fear which everyday people possess. If we want to minimize racism, fear, and the damage these things can cause during an outbreak, the best thing to do is to find reliable, objective sources for information. Make sure that the news organizations you get your information from are reliable, balanced and objective. Additionally, ensure the websites and videos you go to are medically sound, their articles are well researched. Places such as the World Health Organization website, the Health Canada site, or YouTube channels by well known medical professionals are the best places to find information and support. Education is a sure fire way to stop hate and fear, because it equalizes people and helps them understand new perspectives and learn facts. It stops people from believing information out of ignorance and promotes informed decision making that is clear and uninfluenced by an agenda. So, if you’re unable to do anything else on this list, then at least try and find a way to become educated on COVID-19 for your own sake.

The important thing to remember is that we are all human — no one person or group is better or worse than any other, and we’re all in this together. Using unhelpful language during an outbreak that sparks fear of certain races or places only serves to expand the reach of the virus as it separates us and prevents people from taking proper care of themselves. The more we work together and support each other, the faster we will be able to eradicate this illness and go on living happy and healthy lives together as a global community.