We need more proactive action on infectious diseases

Maddie Coyle, Assistant Opinion Editor

 Over the past few weeks, the pandemic spread of the COVID-19 virus has taken over, impeding on everyday life across the globe.

The first COVID-19 virus outbreak was in Wuhan, China, according to Aljazeera, but has since spread across the globe, impacting hundreds of nations.

As a response to this growing virus, on Thursday March 12, 2020, ETHS announced they would close the school and transition to E-Learning beginning on March 17, 2020 and ending April 30, 2020. 

Across the nation, we have seen many closings and cancellations with schools and outside organizations shutting down out of fear of spreading the virus. 

 Even our state has reached the point of lockdown, with Governor J.B. Pritzker declared on March 23 a strict “stay at home order”, according to NBC. As of April 2, the United States has the most COVID-19 virus cases in the world totaling up to over 215,000 cases, with over 6,000 in Illinois, according to CNN

Yet despite this panic, the COVID-19 virus is not the first major lethal virus in our lifetimes. While no disease has reached the point of infection that COVID-19 virus has in this century, two diseases, Ebola virus and Zika virus, plagued our world as major diseases at the time. 

The mass Ebola outbreak of 2014 began in the West African nation of Guinea and by July of that year, it had spread to Guinea’s capital and neighboring nations’ capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to National Geographic. This was the first time the disease had spread into major metropolitan areas, which caused an excess amount of panic. Then in September of 2014, the U.S. had its first confirmed case in Dallas, Texas, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC). The panic caused by Ebola was similar to that of corona. Travel restrictions from west African nations were placed, according to The Guardian. People at risk who were asked to stay inside and certain schools were on edge of closing, according to The New York Times. However, according to the CDC, the Ebola virus also infected Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. 

  “I remember the Ebola virus, and I was definitely scared of it. But it seemed very different from the corona outbreak in that it seemed very distant to me and my community. The danger was generally less widespread,” says junior Josie McCartney, a leader on the Cause for a Cure team of the ETHS Community Service Club. “I also remember people would joke around about it in school and it became really well known on social media.”

The Zika virus of 2015 and 2016 was another infectious disease that plagued our nation. The virus stemmed from a case in Brazil during March of 2015, according to CNN. By 2016, health officials were urging the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic summer games to be moved or postponed. According to the CDC, the disease had spread quickly, increasing from 72 cases in the U.S. in 2015 to 41,680 the following year. However, despite this, nothing was on the verge of being cancelled. According to The New York Times, there was a travel warning issued in the Miami area and in many countries that reported cases of Zika virus; however, this warning was mostly for pregnant women. While many people cancelled their vacations and the 2016 summer Olympic games were at risk of postponement, nothing was closed or at risk of closing like with the public closings following Ebola or COVID-19 virus outbreaks, even though Zika virus had been spread throughout the Americas. 

These diseases differ on both their country of origin and the panic they caused. the 2014 Ebola outbreak began in the third world country of Guinea and spread to many first world nations, including the UK, Spain and the U.S., according to the World Population Review. The 2016 Zika outbreak began in the third world nation of Brazil and spread to only a few first world countries, as stated by The Atlantic. The 2020 COVID-19 virus outbreak began in the first world, industrialized nation of China and then spread to many other first world nations. 

 It is due to the rate at which the COVID-19 virus spread, and the countries it spread to, that makes it so terrifying for people to watch. COVID-19 virus is one of the few infectious diseases that began and spread to mostly industrialized, first world countries. When the number of COVID-19 virus cases began climbing in Wuhan, China, people began to take notice. News coverage regarding the increased number of cases climbed almost as quickly as the number of cases did. However, we did not see that type of reaction in Guinea or Brazil;in these countries, the reaction did not come until thousands of people were infected or did not come until it reached other industrialized nations. Panic did not spread in the U.S. with Ebola until someone had caught it. Panic did not spread in the U.S. with Zika until the Olympics were in jeopardy. These infectious diseases that harm and kill thousands cannot get a reaction out of fellow people until it impacts our country or a country with a similar socioeconomic status. 

“I think it is easy to imagine how a disease that could kill and shut down Italy—would pose a similar risk to other ‘western’ countries because the lifestyles and government are more similar to the US than the lifestyles and governments of China and Iran. It is also easy for a broad group of people within a country to see people who ‘look like them’ dying and to imagine that it could be them,” says Dr. Mercedes Carnethon, a professor and vice chair at Northwestern’s Feinberg school of medicine. 

 However, diseases will get a rise in panic not only due to the country infected, but the media coverage that the virus causes. People watch and listen to the media, and it may not always be accurate, but many people wager their reactions and their opinions on both what the media is covering and how it is covered. In a time of increased media coverage and viewership, according to The Los Angeles Times, it is important for news outlets to cover everything that impacts people’s lives around the world. 

 Even when the media does cover these viruses, it is the role of our governments to take them seriously. Our governments, both on a local and national level, must prioritize the safety of people. Before the required lockdown of the state and schools, ETHS closed their building in response to the virus, showing the severity of the virus and its implications for the community. However, our national government did not take the similar proactive steps. 

 According to Vox, in spring of 2018, President Trump absolved the team working as a pandemic response, showing the American people that we should not be worried about infectious diseases or the impact they could have. 

Then when the COVID-19 virus began to take hold on a bigger scale, President Trump downplayed it tremendously until the middle of March, according to The Atlantic. He made statements stating that social distancing should end by Easter, that the US economy should reopen by Easter and that the COVID-19 virus would soon disappear. He has since acknowledged the severity of this outbreak, but his original message has been received clearly.  By downplaying a pandemic, he was putting the American people in danger.

The only way that all infectious diseases will be taken seriously is if they are taken seriously by two groups that our nation turns to often: the media and our government.

Communities and people turn to both these groups for guidance on how they should react and if one downplays a disease, then people could be more at risk for catching the diseases. Ebola, Zika and COVID-19 virus are all diseases that have impacted our country significantly in the past six years. What helped our nation was the coverage that the diseases initially received, but this coverage of infectious disease needs to be better and more expansive in the future. Thousands of people should not have to die before our media and government to care. It is the job of both our media and government to take these diseases seriously because of the irreparable harm these viruses  could do to the people of this country. That is why it is the people of this country who must recognize that to prevent diseases like this in the future, we need to call for better coverage of diseases in other nations as well. Diseases are a threat to humans across the globe, not just to certain people or countries. That is why it is essential that our media and government notify the people of all possible threats to make sure that everyone, everywhere can stay safe.