Back before spring break last semester I wrote a piece for The Dickinsonian that was headlined “Curb Your Coronavirus Concerns” where I said that media sensationalism about coronavirus was unreasonable, but that we should appreciate and take seriously our responsibility to consume news responsibility. The alternative was China’s approach, with its crackdowns and a refusal to acknowledge the problem. With the hindsight of months of pandemic and thousands of tragic deaths it’s clear that I was mistaken about media sensationalism. The problem was so real and so deadly.
I’ve taken the virus seriously since the situation exploded. It was months before I was spending time with friends, and a mask has become part of my routine. There is still that nagging trouble of how I could have been caught so unaware – how could the country have been caught so unaware, too. The group of us editors and writers putting the paper together thought my piece was worthwhile enough to go into the paper (or at least passable enough to fill the last-minute hole we had in the paper). Overlooking the danger wasn’t a one-person job.
And I’m still at a bit of a loss six months later as to how I could have been so oblivious. Of course, I know now that we allowed the virus to be distant. We didn’t try to see that the problem was close to us. But even the coverage that I found so tiresome was about the spread of the virus within other countries. (Or at least, that’s how I allowed myself to perceive the coverage.) There were stories about how many people in Wuhan had the virus and how China was shutting down train traffic between cities. For countries near China where the virus was well contained, the danger was obvious and imminent. I had the privilege to pretend otherwise and ignore the spread, as did just about everyone in the United States.
What I really wish I were writing was an atonement or some sort of mea culpa, though I don’t think that is what I have to offer. The best that I can offer instead is a prayer of humility and a request for guidance, since the same process is happening before our eyes. When schools reopen and communities ignore safety guidelines, they commit the same fault as before. They push away a problem that is close. I’m not sure how to center our focus, though, when we ignore a problem that is right in front of us. I am the same person, after all, asked us to spend less time talking about the coronavirus who just a few months ago.