SAJU: Coronavirus response must be measured


Column: Pride, not Prejudice

The news that had seemed half a world away a month ago is now in the back of everyone’s minds — the thought toeing the line between taking matters too seriously and not taking them seriously enough. 

Small talk begins falling into a pattern of discussing the latest news updates and people leaving meetings opt to say “stay safe!” instead of “have a nice day." The seriousness of the impact of the global pandemic seeped into our normal lives a little more every day. 

Along with climate change and terrorism, the effect of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be one of the defining issues of our time. All of those memes that joked about COVID-19 seem a lot less funny when there is someone walking around campus in a hazmat suit, when the hand sanitizer section of Target is empty. 

The human race, hardwired by evolution, is known to respond to new threats aggressively. A common line of reasoning is that it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared in a situation. But, the amount of risk associated with COVID-19 tends to be blown out of proportion. 

While the situation does necessitate that recommended medical restrictions and advice must be heeded, we must remind ourselves that overreacting and over-preparing can sometimes do more harm than good. Unfortunately, one common reaction in the face of crisis is panic buying. 

Panic buying is a phenomenon that occurs during a critical situation where people will flock to the store to hoard groceries and other items; this mass reaction causes prices to shoot up (sellers can increase the price to an expositive extent in a process called price gouging) and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them

For example, the price uptick on masks had negatively impacted the healthcare industry. One report found a 10-pack of face masks — that would usually cost $20 — cost a buyer $100. The U.S. government has recommended that people stop buying health masks (not only because they do not offer sufficient protection from COVID-19) since there might not be enough supplies for healthcare professionals who need masks to do their jobs safely and effectively.  

While the importance of cleanliness is being stressed, hand-washing seems like a far too ordinary solution for the global impact of this virus. “People feel the need to do something that’s proportionate to what they perceive is the level of the crisis," but this tendency to use panic buying to feel in control during a crisis will harm American families as well as adversely affect the economy long-term. 

The World Health Organization has now labeled the spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic, and there are worries about how people around the world (even though the recommended course of action has not changed with the new label of the virus) will respond to the news. 

“The (COVID-19) outbreak ended one of the longest winning streaks in market history on Wednesday as the Dow Jones industrial average plunged and global policymakers grappled with the growing economic crisis,” said New York Times writer Ben Casselman

Since global growth is on the line, investors have been looking to world leaders to step in and ameliorate the current situation: Extending financial relief for sick workers (said by President Donald J. Trump) and cutting or suppressing interest rates (actions taken by central banks) are not enough for investors who are waiting for more “decisive action” on the fiscal policy front. 

While the full economic toll of the outbreak will be unclear for months, there is a growing body of evidence that the effect will be severe. The United States, unlike Europe, was on fairly solid economic footing before the virus entered the country (which should provide a certain degree of cushion), but the trade war with China has hurt manufacturers and farmers, leaving the country now more dependent on consumer spending. 

In the face of a virus that can affect the social, political and economic fabric of our country, we must act responsibly and altruistically to minimize the long-term effects on the country. Instead of stressing the potential for harm, it is necessary that we focus on the possibility of risk: While the former causes individuals to act selfishly, the latter motivates altruism

Times like these challenge our society to change, and it is vital for us to meet this challenge with compassion and kindness for others. 

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Fridays. 

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