It never occurred to me that I would have the (mis)fortune of encountering this viral disease on two occasions within the span of three months. When I left my friends in Nanjing, it was in part due to pressure from Fulbright. Otherwise, I was quite happy and content with my life in the monastery. Between dishwashing and prayer sessions, I had access to nutritious vegetarian food and high-speed internet. Life was good.
But being back in the United States for a few months now, it seems like a lot of the criticisms Americans (I use this term generally, referring to my experiences interacting with anonymous “American” identities online) had towards China’s falsified death toll are happening again. This time though, the inaccurate counts are being recorded in the United States, with the number of patients tested positive for COVID being much lower than what’s predicted.
I don’t want to seem like I’m shifting the blame in an direction. As we try to grapple with something as dangerous as this virus, I think it’s simply helpful to keep in mind that this is a difficult situation, and I hope that rather than being entirely cynical, we can understand how difficult it is for governments to produce a competent response when things are happening so fast. This being said, I also do not want to excuse the misdeeds and inactions. The US knew that this issue was affecting China for months before it truly blew up in the US, but even as I flew into San Francisco International Airport on January 31, I was not subject to any tests or screening, but merely a simple questionnaire.
One major factor I blame for this incompetence is the blindness that Americans have regarding global citizenship. Despite sharing the same planet, it felt like the overall view (when coronavirus broke out across China in early January) was that this was a distant issue. It surely would not affect the US.
But the US doesn’t live in a vacuum. People travel, and people travel internationally. Even as cases began to appear in the US, our frames of reference became even more limited, thinking, “oh, but New York is so far away,” or “ah, but that’s Seattle,” not thinking of how the web of connections which ties us all together on this planet is both the key to recovery and the key to catastrophe.
As the trajectory in the US remains as dismal as ever, I am left wondering what things would be like if the US had a competent administration, one with the compassion to have reached out to aid China in mitigating the virus while it was still growing, one which would have thought of implementing screening procedures for vulnerable populations and boosting health care access at the first alarm. I am left disappointed, and as tribalism spreads online, violence towards Asians increases, and amygdalian reactions spread, I fear that the global population is moving farther and farther away from a universally beneficial solution.