UC Santa Barbara’s Pan Asian Network hosted a “Coronavirus 101” event this Wednesday at the MultiCultural Center to educate students about the transmission and prevention of the virus, aiming to quell recent xenophobic sentiments on campus.
The event featured three UCSB faculty and staff members who presented about the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) — Ali Javanbakht, the interim Student Health Service executive director and medical director; Holly Smith, administrative nursing supervisor and infection control coordinator; and Carolina Arias, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. The three addressed misconceptions surrounding the virus before answering questions from an audience packed with students and community members.
The Pan Asian Network, in a statement passed out to attendees, emphasized to community members that “coronavirus doesn’t give you an excuse to be a dick to Asian people.”
The statement also described the racism and xenophobia that many UCSB students said they have experienced since the coronavirus outbreak, including “a concerning lack of empathy and solidarity with our campus’s Chinese students.”
Vidhisha Mahesh, a second-year psychological and brain sciences major and member of the Pan Asian Network, talked about her frustration with having to educate people perpetuating racist and xenophobic steryotypes.
China has received criticism for its original handling of the outbreak and the lack of information put out to the public, the New York Times reported. Chinese officials put the latest death toll at 563, and the number of confirmed cases at 28,018; there have been 12 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Feb. 5.
The U.S. has put in place screening and quarantine measures for those traveling from possibly infected areas, according to the New York Times. The UC system is following a nationwide protocol in screening patients who have symptoms of the virus and have been outside the country in the last 14 days, the New York Times said.
Javanbakht was quick to reassure teach-in attendees that “the risk to our campus community is pretty low.” The virus has an incubation period of roughly 5-14 days, and “for most people on campus, those who have travelled to or possibly been near an infected person are well out of the incubation period, meaning they did not get infected,” he elaborated.
Should someone from UCSB be diagnosed with the virus, the school would defer to Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and is still “remaining diligent” in helping students stay safe, Smith added.
Smith went on to detail prevention methods for the coronavirus, which are the same as those recommended for the flu or common cold. “Do the things you should be doing all day every day anyways,” Smith recommended to students while passing around hand sanitizers to the audience.
“Hand sanitizer, a full squirt, even your thumbs … always wash your hands, [and] if you’re sick, limit contact with others. Eat well, get rest,” she reminded the audience.
“It is not necessary for those who have not been infected to wear masks,” she added.
The Pan Asian Network statement also detailed the ridicule that some students have received while wearing masks to help them feel more protected on campus.
“Students feel the need to laugh and point at us for wearing N95 masks that are scientifically proven to help prevent the spread of disease,” the statement said.
Katie, a community member who declined to state her last name and who described herself as “deeply involved with Chinese students on campus,” discussed the cultural divide between China and the U.S. during the Q&A portion of the event and the confusion that international students might feel.
“If everything they’re hearing back home is that roads are blocked off, everyone is wearing masks, people are being asked to not ride mass transit — everything they’re hearing from the community they trust is that this is a huge deal. And then they come here, and the qualified medical professionals are just telling them, basically, to wash their hands,” she explained.
Comments and questions addressed to the three faculty and staff members made it clear that many students were still feeling anxiety and concern not only around the coronavirus but also around the underlying racist sentiments that have penetrated most discussions around it.
“This isn’t just affecting a subgroup of people who have the virus, but the entire Asian community on campus,” Vince Matthew Feliciano, a Pan Asian board member, explained.
“To people who might already feel like they don’t belong, this is just emphasizing the divide between who is Asian and who isn’t.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Feb. 6, 2020 print edition of the Daily Nexus.