The Nation’s Illness (Also COVID-19) by Chris Thompson

thermometer sitting on a red backdrop

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The Nation’s Illness (Also COVID-19) 

I wasn’t phased by COVID-19 in January, when a few reports came out. It’s another new virus, but it’s over THERE. It will be contained, a few people will get sick, and then we’ll go about our day. I wasn’t phased when the virus migrated to Italy. I was still over THERE. Even when it hopped over to Washington State. Even when cases popped up in New York, I was not phased. I thought that this was what epidemics do, and a few people will pass away sadly, and the virus will subside, and the flu will be the biggest threat that everyone ignores. Again.

So unphased by COVID-19 I was, that in the beginning of March I went on a 4-day trip to New York City that I had planned months earlier. I was going to see my first Broadway show with my best friend. We went to MoMA and reunited with friends living there. I met Josh Brolin…ok we were in the same restaurant, and he told me he liked my shirt. COVID-19 was the farthest thing from my mind. While I was enjoying the sights, University of Rochester decided to cancel classes for the week, and then the rest of the semester. Rochester’s schools closed. The day that we returned to Rochester, Broadway shut down, and then MoMA. That was 48 hours after we had gone to both. At this point, I was in denial that this was happening. I was a little bit paranoid, though, because I was feeling side effects from vaccinations I got in preparation for an international trip. But then that international trip got canceled, because the country closed its borders. I was finally phased. The following week it was announced that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was postponed, and coffee shops and restaurants started to limit their hours and services. My industry friends were rightfully worried about their futures. I was frustrated, because at this point, despite all the warnings, the streets were packed with Parade-goers for a parade that was not going to happen.

I wasn’t officially frightened until my capoeira teacher suspended in-person classes. That is when I became frightened. My teacher has taught with a hernia, with sprained limbs, with a walking cold. He is superhuman. If he canceled classes, then this is deadly serious.

So now, I work from home. My kitchen is now an office with free vending machines. I miss going to my favorite coffee shop and talking to folks. My international trip is postponed a year, so no money lost; it’s just transferred 12 months. Zoom works great for remote workouts, so it is possible to do capoeira. To be honest, I got off easy in this time of self-quarantine. I’m still frightened, though. Friends of mine have bills and no income. Some of them can apply for unemployment, but anyone who has been on unemployment will tell you that it is difficult. You are supposed to be looking for a job every week, but how does one look for a job when you cannot even leave the house, and hiring is at a standstill, because employers also cannot leave their house? How are people going to pay their rent, which is right around the corner?

My other fear surrounding COVID-19 is the safety of Southeast Asian folks. News of this disease has brought out virulent racism that has exploded into violence in some cases. Even the President trump has stoked the flames by using and then DEFENDING the use of the term “Chinese Coronavirus”. You can claim that he only called it that because it came from China. But it already has a name: COVID-19. It is even fewer syllables. You can say it is not much different than how diseases were named in the past. Just because something was done in the past doesn’t mean we should continue to do it. In this century, we have nicknamed viruses by the animal from whence they came: swine flu, avian flu. Why not call it bat flu? Or just call it COVID-19. Nothing positive can come from pinning a nationality or ethnicity to the disease. Viruses do not care about ethnicity. That the United States has surpassed China’s infection rate proves that. Before you go into how “disgusting” the food provided at Wuhan Market is, kindly check yourself. European markets serve just as much “disgusting” food, but we have been acclimated to it over the course of 500 years. You will find a dirty, open market anywhere. I went to an open market in Ukraine, where they would slaughter the animal in front of you as you picked your meat cut. Fish were in barrels filled with just enough water to keep them barely alive. My ex-wife bought what can only be described as a loaf of pig fat, which she promptly sliced and ate like it was cheese. I still have a memory of its smell. We can pretend that blaming the virus on China is only pointing out its geographic origin, but the truth is that a virus like this could have happened anywhere. The only purpose of adding a nationality to the disease is to dog whistle demonize the people who came from that region.

I hope that this quarantine will be lifted soon, but more importantly that it is lifted at the right time. My only joy right is running food and goods to neighbors who need them. While that is nice, I long for a system where private citizens don’t have to do such things. The state’s response to COVID-19 is reasonable given its infection rate. However, our efforts to prevent the illness has exposed other illnesses in our society that we never treated. Our healthcare system is subpar compared to others. We lack a substantial disaster relief infrastructure. There should not have to be 3.3 million people applying for unemployment in the nation. Jobs should be safe in a crisis. If mortgages can be suspended for a few months, then so should rents. If everyone is home, then what does it matter? COVID-19 has exposed more than just its own illness. Hopefully we will be able to treat all of them.

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is

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