Coronavirus: Stuyvesant Students Share Their Thoughts

Stuyvesant students respond to the coronavirus.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Jenny Chen

Bags of rice flying off shelves, schools closing, mass quarantines, and frequent anti-Asian assaults. COVID-19, often referred to as “the coronavirus,” has infected the media, coughing up daily accounts of the virus’s continued spread and devastation. At a school with nearly 3,500 students and hundreds of staff members, there are infinite opinions floating around about the potential devastation this disease could cause. What some see as an overblown case of national hypochondria others see as a global health catastrophe with worldwide implications.

Junior Samuel Lin leans toward the first of these two camps. He believes that the news is overblowing the situation. “They focus on minuscule details just to get more readers,” he said. However, Lin doesn’t deny that he and his family have taken precautions like avoiding high-density areas as much as possible, washing their hands regularly, and keeping the house stocked with masks in case of a shortage and price uptick.

Sophomore Ian Graham feels very differently: “I am extremely concerned about the coronavirus because there’s really no way to contain or cure the virus yet,” he explained. “With most other illnesses, there is some sort of treatment, so it’s not just up [to] dumb luck if you will survive or not.” Graham and his family have already purchased hand sanitizer, gloves, Lysol, and disinfectant wipes in preparation for what he calls “the inevitable and devastating arrival of the disease.” Others, among them sophomore Liesel Wong, co-president of the Teens for Public Health Club, shared Graham’s concern for those in poor health: “I’m more concerned about people who have compromised immune systems or elderly people who are more likely to not recover from the virus,” she said.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, levels of anxiety and fear imbue even the simplest aspects of everyday life. “[The coronavirus] has started to impact my daily actions,” freshman Namulun Togochog said. “Simple gestures like pushing an elevator button could be a vector for disease.” The coronavirus has even started impacting some students’ schedules. “My mom has made me stop going to tutoring since there’s a case near my tutoring place,” sophomore Rachel Lin said. “I’ve just been trying to avoid touching my face and have a bunch of hand sanitizers I dumped in my bag,” she added.

Yet as anxiety and infection rates skyrocket, memes, jokes, and puns about the coronavirus have spread even more rapidly than the virus itself. Whether through subreddits, TikTok videos, or tweets, the coronavirus dominates every aspect of the Internet. One notable example involves CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer positioned above a caption reading “Alcohol kills the coronavirus” accompanied by a crowd chugging alcohol in the background. Images like these are perhaps an outlet for collective anxiety—what people can’t cure with medicine, they try to cure with humor.

On a more serious note, the coronavirus isn’t just a health threat. It’s also a social plague as anti-Asian sentiment explodes across New York City.

“A woman once walked up to me in public and straight-up asked if I had [the] coronavirus since I was Asian,” Rachel Lin shared.

Additionally, though Graham understands the connection between the coronavirus and racism, he believes that the media needs to stop using the virus as a scapegoat for hate crimes, especially if it comes at the cost of comprehensive coverage. “Of course I do understand that the coronavirus is causing xenophobia, but I feel it's irresponsible for people or institutions like The Spectator to say that concerns over the coronavirus are nothing more than an excuse for racism. I feel that the spread of misinformation, like that spread by our own school’s newspaper in just the last issue, is a dangerous way to suppress valid concerns about a virus that will inevitably affect the United States, [especially] New York City, very intensely.”

But in light of incidents experienced by people like Rachel Lin, there may be some legitimacy to the connection between the coronavirus and racism. Rachel Lin is not alone. Daisy Lin also had a similar encounter: “A group of middle-schoolers approached me and began asking whether or not I had been infected by the virus because ‘all Chinese people have corona.’” They used slurs like “Ching Chong” and “gook” freely.

Despite this troubling experience, Daisy Lin understands that most of the racism stems from fear. “We should be cautious, not contentious,” she said. “The pressing matter lies upon what we, as a community, can do to help.”