The Price of Privilege in the Age of the Coronavirus

Image by Mathieu Clauss

The way we respond in unprecedented times reveals much more about ourselves than we even know.

While China was battling COVID-19 in November of last year, the rest of the world watched silently. Despite the dramatic shutdowns and number of cases growing exponentially every day, it was business as usual everywhere else. As it spread to other Asian countries, including South Korea and Japan, the soon-to-be pandemic went largely ignored by the West.

Once the novel coronavirus hit the shores of Italy, it was still dismissed by their neighbors. Now, all of the European countries are fighting to control this outbreak by instituting the very same measure that had gone unrecognized in Asia and Italy. Just this weekend alone, Germany banned public gatherings of more than two, and Italy banned all outdoor exercising, including walking, running, and cycling as a means to stop the spread of this virus.

While this outbreak has unfolded in the past few months, most Americans are still oblivious. For many, life is still business as usual. Despite the setbacks from closed businesses and flights, spring break and vacations continue. Even with mandated home lock-downs in place, I still see people frolicking in parks on Instagram and roaming the streets from outside my window.

Challenging privilege is an arduous undertaking, especially when asking Americans to stay at home to save the lives of others. Life has been too comfortable over the past few decades, being free of recession, famine, disease, or war within our borders.

Take, for instance, early statistical reports of COVID-19 coming out of China and Italy. The rate of fatality was most concentrated on the older population 65 and up. Instead of heeding this as a warning to immediately set up protection and isolation for the vulnerable older population, the younger generation took the data and made it work for themselves.

“I won’t die.”

Even as people started to die around the world, it wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough dead bodies yet to take this seriously.

“It’s just the flu.”

In fact, if we followed that very same logic (we won’t take this seriously until it surpasses the number of deaths as the flu, world hunger, etc.), we would only have started to take action after millions of deaths. As we know now, it takes weeks before isolation to directly impact the rate of infection, and creating a vaccine takes at least 12–18 months. We would have decimated our population before any flattening of the curve were to be taking place.

Still, there are many others who refute statistical data around the number of cases and deaths from the COVID-19. I wholeheartedly agree.

Until COVID-19 testing begins in any region, initial statistics of coronavirus and related-deaths are not accounted for. Many are sent home misdiagnosed with the flu, and deaths are recorded as pneumonia or other complications arising from a collapsed immune system. Others are at home, suffering alone, and unable to go to the hospital. Recently, the mayor of Bergamo, the epicenter of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, wrote: “for each COVID death there are three who die at home of pneumonia without a test.” The statistics we have are all grossly underreported.

In my opinion, we may already be past the point of containment. Some states are just now starting to close businesses, schools, and public spaces. International and domestic flights are still operating out of major hubs. Churches are still operating despite local ordinances. The majority of Americans are still walking around without masks or gloves, believing that social distance is all the protection they need. And the cherry on top: testing kits are still unavailable to the majority of Americans.

While I agree that further reporting will improve our statistical assessment of this virus, there is still this assumption that after testing positive, there is a whole medical facility, staff, and supplies ready and waiting. Getting tested will not add more ventilators to a hospital, open up more hospital beds, or bring back to life those we have already lost.

Regardless of testing availability, it should not impact the precautionary measures we need to be taking at this moment. At this point, we should be operating as if everyone is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19. Based on projections by Governor Cuomo of NYC, between 40–80% will be infected with the virus.

Since the level of severity is potentially linked to viral load (amount of virus within us), we should be isolating as much as possible to reduce aggregating additional viral particulates. We must err on the side of caution and learn from our brothers, sisters, and siblings from all around the world.

  • Stop traveling.
  • Reduce (or eliminate) movement through public spaces.
  • Cover up when going outside (gloves, masks, any other available protective layer).
  • Hydrate.
  • Stay healthy.

I love you all so very much. Until next week.

By the way… guess what day it is?

My birthday wish? For you to stay home. 🤪

Let’s continue to do our part in flattening the curve, reducing hospital load, and saving lives.

I host a podcast called Yellow Glitter, mindfulness through the eyes and soul of a gay Asian. You can find it on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Overcast, and TuneIn.

Along with a bit of weekly mindfulness, I send out my favorite things I discover each week on my email newsletter at Mindful Moments.

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

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Steven Wakabayashi

Steven Wakabayashi

Instruction: Mix equal parts of life hacker, designer, developer and productivity nerd. Sprinkle a dash of coffee and cupcakes. Best served fresh.

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