ASSOCIATE EDITOR CAMILLE BRYAN WRITES — Savannah, a small town in Tennessee, along with the rest of the United States, has had a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the past weeks, up to 238 since July 23. The day Wuhan ended its lockdown that number was 2.
The residents of Savannah had been largely spared the virus they knew little about, did not care to learn about, and were generally not concerned with. There was no stay at home order, no social distancing guidelines and certainly no mask mandate. I was the only person wearing a face covering. Store shelves were filled with toilet paper and Clorox wipes, and there was no mass rush to buy non-perishable foods.
At that time the American epicenter, a fully shut down New York, was a million miles away. Wuhan, a galaxy away. But that was then. In recent days, as companies reported their first positive tests, the Tennessee health department and on-call epidemiologists begged Presidents and CEOs to require masks at work. They were met with a full force refusal: “It’s too hot,” “I don’t believe in the virus,” “I don’t see any evidence it helps at all,” were a few responses to one company’s posted request for all employees to wear masks while they were inside the factory and around multiple people. There simply was no way to convince people to help curb the spread of a pandemic that has infected over 15 million people worldwide.
On the other side of the world, citizens of Wuhan could not fathom a reaction such as that on Savannah or the United States in general. Why in the world would you not do the one thing you can do to protect your neighbors, your family, and yourself? How could you respond that the government does not have the authority to tell you to wear a mask in public?
I do not write this to criticize those who don’t see and cannot comprehend the devastating effect this virus has had on the world, but rather to bring up this utter dichotomy in the pandemic response. Authorities in China shut down cities and barred citizens from leaving their houses. There are tanks and armed forces in the streets in Peru. Yet citizens are protesting the lack of open hair salons in American streets?! Why is the “help your neighbor” plea to wear masks failing?
We are so quick to criticize the Chinese government for failing to disclose the extent of the virus at the outset, but woefully ignore its recommendations on how to help ourselves. We even vilify China’s “mask diplomacy” as political manipulation and a way to force us into being commercially dependent on China (as if we don’t already buy upwards of $500 billion of Chinese products a year) and are willing to seriously consider a complete de-coupling with China over fears that the Chinese government is stealing our data from apps like Tiktok. FYI: If you believe your data is safe in your hands and no government, foreign or domestic, has possession of it, I invite you to examine the 2001 Patriot Act and read about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
It is now startlingly clear that regardless of our tireless crusade of anti-Chinese rhetoric enveloping the news cycle over the past weeks, we must in fact turn to China to find a way out of these unparalleled times. Our open and free society we revere so much in America is the very obstacle in the attempt to get back to our “normal” lives.
Finally, residents of towns spared the worst of the virus are beginning to realize they know people who are actually sick and hospitalized, a new phenomenon for them. Now what? Well, mass order K-N95 masks from Sichuan province in China and attempt to enforce a mask mandate—that very mandate people chuckled at months before.