With the recent outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV, or commonly shortened to coronavirus, people worldwide are taking many precautions to avoid the illness. Coronaviruses can cause several illnesses ranging in severity from a common cold to death. However, this 2019 strain is new to humans. The usual mechanisms of washing hands often, covering mouths when coughing and sneezing and avoiding contact with people who are sick are more present than ever in daily routines. 

All these steps are being taken to avoid the virus, yet, it seems like people are avoiding not just the sick, but those that appear to be of an Asian ethnicity. Since the outbreak began Wuhan, China, many are associating this virus with Chinese people or people that resemble an Eastern Asian heritage. Users on social media platforms express their fear of the virus by sharing images and videos of Chinese foods that are uncommon in the western world. A clip of Caucasian subway riders covering their mouths and noses around a Chinese woman has gone viral.

The panic has transformed into racism toward many Asian people, and it has occurred on a local level. “As I was passing through town a police officer asked me why I was wearing a mask, almost as if he was waiting for me to say the coronavirus since I’m obviously Asian. When I said no, he replied, ‘Well if you are those face masks are basically useless against the virus,’ and tried to educate me on different masks,” said 22-year-old English major Jamie Ferguson of Neptune. 

“It was extremely condescending as in most Asian cultures, we wear face masks for pollution, when we’re sick to prevent spreading illnesses, and even as a cultural accessory for many. We wear them for many reasons and the fact that I can’t walk around without getting stares from white people is extremely offensive. False information is spreading xenophobia towards Asians quickly. I’ve even seen racist posts toward Chinese people from my family in the Philippines.” Ferguson said. 

Memes and satirical posts about the Chinese are spreading now more than ever. “I definitely think tensions toward Asians have increased. While I haven’t received any hostility in person, I have noticed an increase in racism online. I think a lot of people are using this recent outbreak as an excuse to discriminate against Asians. Sadly, I think this has come with jokes about what we eat, how we treat animals and even as far as joking about our hygiene,” said 20-year-old math major Rufus Gomez of Neptune.

Other Asian students argue that this outbreak of the virus hasn’t changed anything. “No. I don’t think tensions have changed since the outbreak. I think that any ‘tension’ is exaggerated. I think this outbreak is similar to the Ebola scare, but I doubt that Africans felt increased tension just as the Asian population. Any tension there is has already been there,” said 19-year-old computer science major Arriadne Diaz of Neptune. 

It is OK to be precautionary and take all the steps necessary to avoid sickness. However, it is important to not target or be fearful of one group of people because of where the virus originated. Associating a sickness with one type of person is a form of prejudice.