The middle of a pandemic is not the time to break the rules

The rest of the world braced for a COVID-19 outbreak, but the United States denied it. We cannot do that anymore.

While Taiwan activated the Central Epidemic Command Center in January and banned flights from Wuhan shortly after, the United States waited until the end of January to impose travel restrictions on foreign nationals from China. While South Korean officials raced to increase testing days after the first few cases emerged in February, the United States had only prepared about 350 COVID-19 tests weeks after the outbreak reached America. While President Donald Trump suggested the virus could “disappear,” other world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared war on the novel virus.

Jekko Syquia | Cartoonist

Now, people are flooding U.S. hospitals with confirmed cases, creating social and economic upheaval. Hospitals are depleting its protective equipment for health care professionals and maxing out space and ventilators for patients, while healthcare and government officials are pleading with Americans to stay home and practice social distancing. We could have mitigated the spread earlier if U.S. leaders acknowledged it was an issue, but now is not the time for should haves, would haves or could haves.

It is more important than ever for people – especially students – to stay home and follow the advice of medical professionals. There is no room for error anymore – everyone must follow the rules.

It is disappointing to see that many people are still freely traveling and mingling with large groups of people. It does not help that Trump called the coronavirus another version of the flu and inaccurately named COVID-19 the “China Virus.” People should know by now that the virus is not going to disappear, and no one is invincible in the middle of a pandemic. Trump’s advice is dangerous, and students should listen to the medical professionals who have urged people to stay home from the start.

Unfortunately, college students are still unafraid of the pandemic and believe that they will survive even if they catch it. I also thought I was invincible. I planned a spring break trip to California and was set on going as a senior year vacation. But my mom stopped me from going. I should have known better. Even if younger people like college students have stronger immune systems, there are patients in the intensive care unit with more severe cases, and college students are the ones who could give the virus to someone who is more at risk. We might survive the virus, but we cannot be certain we won’t pass it along to someone with a weaker immune system.

With a mass increase in globalization, it is much easier to travel across the world and come in contact with illnesses in foreign countries and transmit it through transportation like airplanes and cruise ships. On Monday, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. implemented a mandatory “shelter-at-home,” citing an expected increase in cases across the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser made the right call. While New York has 5 percent of the world’s coronavirus cases, D.C. could easily be overwhelmed as well. But roads and bridges were closed to prevent large crowds from entering and creative ways of viewing the cherry blossoms online were introduced. Still, some students and younger people might be tempted to leave their homes – they should not.

If anything, now is the time for students to follow these legal mandates instead of breaking the law. GW has also issued multiple statements to students and staff through email and a website tracking the spread of the virus in D.C. and at GW.

By the time the U.S. government recognized COVID-19 as a major issue, it was pretty much too late. Cases are on the rise, and we are expected to reach a peak this month. But students should not continue to believe they are invincible until it is too late. Let’s listen to healthcare professionals and thank grocery store workers and cleaning staff that are risking their lives to maintain their livelihood in the middle of a national emergency. If we have the means, let’s help populations like the homeless and hospitals that need food and funds for more supplies. And as young students, let’s know better than to head outside and work to protect vulnerable populations.

This pandemic will pass and we will learn that taking care of others is an act of service that seems small but has a large impact.

Jina Park, a senior majoring in English, is a columnist.

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