Content warning: anti-Asian racism
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 100 countries have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, as of March 8, 2020. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. While governments have been grappling with widespread closures of public facilities and strained healthcare systems, some communities have been hit harder than others; it’s crucial to help out however you can.
The widespread sentiment that COVID-19 is “just like the flu,” and therefore not a cause for concern, is harmful. While it seems that the majority of cases do not require hospitalization, it is estimated that 10-20 per cent of those with COVID-19 require medical care. The United States has only 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, and Canada fares even worse, with only 2.5 beds per 1,000 people. If the number of those requiring hospitalization reaches 10 per cent in the United States, the country will run out of beds by May 10, and, like in Italy, they may have to make decisions on whose care will be prioritized when resources are scarce. In these situations, those with the lowest chance of surviving the virus – elderly and immunocompromised people, as well as those living with underlying medical conditions – may not receive access to essential hospital resources.
In order to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed it’s important to slow the spread of COVID-19 as much as we can, so that even if a large number of people eventually catch the virus, those requiring hospitalization do not need it at the same time. This means avoiding crowded areas, practicing social distancing, not touching your face, and washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Social distancing – maintaining a distance of six feet/two metres between people – works most effectively in preventing the spread the earlier you begin. Refrain from stockpiling medical supplies, especially if you are not sick, elderly, or immunocompromised. This is particularly true for surgical masks – healthcare workers should have priority considering the increase in demand. Face masks are not recommended for the general public, according to the WHO, since masks sold for retail are not properly fitted for each person. WHO recommendations were never intended as justification for racially-motivated attacks; there is no excuse whatsoever to discriminate against or assault people for wearing face masks.
It is also crucial to recognize that not everyone can afford to self-quarantine. At the federal level in both Canada and the U.S., there is no legislation requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, and many who work in the gig economy or service industry, or who rely heavily on tips may not be able to afford to take unpaid time off. In Quebec, the law only mandates two days of paid leave – far from the required 14 days of quarantine. School closures are especially detrimental to students who rely on those institutions for internet access and/or food. Some parents may have to stay home to take care of their children if school is shut down – thus having to take unpaid time off. If you have a job that allows you to work from home and you are advised to self-isolate, it is essential that you follow these directions. Furthermore, many people are losing work from event cancellations and are asking for help – if you can help out financially, do so.
Many elderly and/or immunocompromised people cannot risk going out and running errands, such as grocery shopping or picking up medication. If you see someone asking for help and COVID-19 poses less of a risk to you, do what you can.
Do not engage with the racist stereotypes, discrimination, and harassment that have been affecting East Asian and Iranian communities, and call out your friends and family if they do. Viruses know no border or ethnicity; everyone has an equal chance of transmitting COVID-19. As a direct result of this misguided stigma, there has been a significant drop in business in Chinatowns across Canada. Furthermore, in the last few weeks, there have been instances of vandalism of Buddhist temples and the gates to Montreal’s Chinatown. If you are not being advised to self-isolate, make an effort to support businesses in Chinatown by eating at Chinese restaurants or ordering takeout.
At the time of publication (March 13), the Quebec government has prohibited events of more than 250 people, and is closing multiple public facilities. Those who have arrived in Canada recently or who have flu-like symptoms are advised to self-isolate for 14 days. For those who work in the public sector, as well as those who work in any healthcare and education systems, the two-week self-quarantine is mandatory. Public sector employees in self-isolation will be paid; employees in the private sector can expect similar measures soon. The general public is encouraged to work from home and practice social distancing.
McGill suspended classes on Friday, March 13, in order to “evaluate how today’s coronavirus (COVID-19) announcement from the Quebec government will impact campus operations and academic activities,” as per an email received by staff and students. In a tweet on Friday, March 13, at 1:26 p.m., McGill stated, “Further to Quebec government directives, campuses will be closed as of March 14 for two weeks. We are waiting for further details from the government as we continue planning for continuity of operations.” Further instruction from the administration on the University’s next steps is supposed to be given by Sunday, March 15. Should McGill opt to move lectures and classes online, it is crucial that they accommodate students who do not have access to a computer or internet from home. Further, students on exchange need quick and region-specific information on the next steps they should take. If students are not able to complete their studies this semester, the University must work to financially support those who cannot afford to stay in Montreal without studying, and to prevent the deportations of international students.
In this public health crisis, is it crucial that we prioritize the community when we can.