Our Obsession with “Looking Good” Led Us To This Stage of Coronavirus

Three months before Coronavirus paralyzed every country in the world, I went into self-isolation due to my chronic illness. Despite being in extreme pain every single day and alone in my apartment, not one of those days agonized me as much as the state of our world today. As more and more information came into light, I realized there is a common denominator in this global pandemic that may have led us to this stage.

Politicians Wanted to “Look Good”, So They Covered Up the Truth and Told People Lies

I’m neither a medical professional nor a lawmaker. In this current situation, I feel as powerless, useless and helpless as I have ever been. My heart breaks every single day for the suffering humanity is going through, but if we don’t reflect on what went wrong, we will never ever learn.

I’m not here to discuss politics or point any fingers. The media and every comment section on the Internet already has enough of that. I’m only going to pick out some key events and put them in perspective.

December, 2019: Li Wenliang, a young doctor in China sounded the alarm that a mysterious new respiratory virus was spreading rapidly in Wuhan, where he worked as an ophthalmologist. He was promptly silenced by the local authority and made to sign a note that says he will “not spread lies and rumors again”. He sadly contracted the virus himself while treating patients and passed away in February, 2020.

The Chinese government has always prioritized political stability over anything else. This time, there was no difference. The Party wanted to “look good” to its people to maintain firm centralized power. Local Party officials wanted to “look good” to their superior, the central government, as their power grab. In normal times, this would be old news. However, this time, their “political vanity” quickly spiraled out of control. Their coverup led to inaction, which then led the country to miss critical time in initial containment.

Fast forward several months, Coronavirus had quickly but somewhat silently spread across the globe without most countries taking it seriously. Here in the US, this is what we heard:

“This is a hoax.”
“We have tremendous control over this.”
“We have plenty of tests.”
“The Chinese Virus…”
“The risk to average Americans remains low…”

If the eerie similarity between the initial response of the Chinese government and the constant downplaying by the US government isn’t apparent, we can look at examples from Italy, where the same lack of action in the beginning has caused the older generation of Italians on the brink of being wiped out.

It’s not hard to figure out the motivation behind the US government’s inaction and desperate attempt to keep the numbers low initially — to “look good” to voters for the upcoming election.

I Wanted to “Look Good”, So I Brushed Off My Mother’s Warning

Back in January, when China was experiencing the first wave of outbreak, I became concerned because my parents live there. They were relatively calm but alert. My mother told me to start wearing a mask when going out in public because she predicted that the virus will soon make its way to the US.

I brushed off her advice. Well, not entirely. I did buy a mask preemptively just in case, but I didn’t really wear it that much. Even back in January, the mask inventory was already dangerously low — I looked everywhere and they were almost sold out. The best I could get was a fabric dusk mask. I knew it wasn’t the best kind, but something is better than nothing. Sadly, during this time, most Americans didn’t even think to buy a mask.

When things started to get worse, I began wearing the mask more frequently. However, I was still not comfortable wearing it everywhere because no one did. I also started to hear Asians being targeted by racists for wearing masks (and later for not wearing one). As an Asian woman who often walks alone, I feared for my safety. On the other hand, I felt weird wearing one as I needed to face a class full of students doing my job as a college professor.

And soon enough, history revealed that mothers are (almost) always right.

Hospitals Wanted to “Look Good”, So They Forbid Doctors and Nurses to Wear Masks

Since January, the CDC has been telling the American public that they should NOT wear a mask because according to them, masks do not work to protect ourselves from the virus; masks should be reserved for healthcare workers; most people have no clue how to properly wear an N95 mask, which needs to be fit-tested.

To be fair, the CDC was not lying entirely, but their flawed messaging led the American public down a dangerous path to the point of no coming back.

Now many Americans realized that masks do work; masks should indeed be worn by healthcare workers but we have a severe shortage; and yes, N95 masks should be fit-tested, but wearing it is almost always better than wearing nothing.

So why did the CDC repeatedly tell us not to wear a mask? It’s simple — because they know how low our mask inventory is and they wanted to prevent panic buying. This is absolutely a valid concern. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that each and every one of us has the right to protect ourselves, and by protecting ourselves, we protect other people as we now know this virus spread like invisible wild fire. If we had started to mass manufacture masks early on and encourage the public to wear them while supplying plenty of protective gears to our heroic healthcare workers, we could have slowed the spread of the virus. But instead, we chose to stick the public’s head in the sand and misled them into believing that masks are not necessary.

The more infuriating side of this is the response from hospitals. I have many college classmates and friends who are now doctors, nurses and pharmacists. When they told me that they were forbidden by their hospital employers to wear masks, I was utterly baffled. I asked them why.

The answer I heard was that they do not want to scare patients who do not have COVID-19. That was not the answer I was expecting — my naive self was thinking because they are short on supply, which is unfortunately the truth.

As absurd as this rationale was, it reminded me of my most recent doctor’s visit. A few weeks before the lockdown, my whole body broke out in horrible rashes. I had to cancel my trip to speak at a conference in California and figure out what my skin issue was. The first doctor I saw told me I had scabies, which is highly contagious (and later it turned out not to be the case). I applied the cream that was prescribed to me but saw no sign of improvement. I then decided to get a second opinion.

When I went to the other dermatologist’s office, the medical assistant put a sheet of paper on the exam chair before asking me to sit on it. I had no reaction to that, but she felt obliged to tell me that “I’m not just putting the paper for you. I do this with every patient.”

As much as I appreciate her reassurance, I sensed that this is a common internalized fear that our action or words may be misconstrued by others as discriminatory. This is a byproduct of America’s multiracial and diverse society (at least in metropolitan areas). When this fear is so entrenched in our everyday lives, it can often get the better of us.

Hospitals cannot afford to want to “look good” when the life of their employees is at risk every single minute.

In China, doctors and nurses have always routinely worn masks regardless if there was a pandemic. I was used to seeing healthcare workers protecting themselves. It makes sense — why would you not wear one when you are being exposed to sick patients all day every day?

Corporations Wanted to “Look Good”, So They Refused to Let Non-Essential Workers Work From Home

I quit my corporate job at the end of January to be an entrepreneur and an educator. It turned out I made it just in time. Some might ask: “Don’t you wish you didn’t quit so fast?” It’s quite the opposite because I saw the bone-chilling callousness of Corporate America from their response (or lack thereof) to this crisis.

The week that most universities took the lead to shut down, I bid farewell to my students in 3 schools within one day. I was bombarded with emails which started from “we are still waiting for guidance” to “we are shutting down”, all in a couple of hours. It was an emotionally overwhelming day.

As late as our response as a country was, I appreciated the swift action of universities and the genuine concern school administrators have shown to students, their family and faculty members. At the end of every email, the university administration expressed sincere gratitude towards our work as faculty and our willingness to adapt to online instruction despite the many challenges.

In contrast, Corporate America showed no sympathy towards employee’s safety by delaying work from home arrangements until the last minute. I was informed by many friends who are in the corporate world that they were told that if they are young, they should not be concerned and that working from home is not productive.

Many of my friends expressed their furiousness and helplessness. Most of them did not dare to speak up because they still needed the paycheck. I, on the other hand, am no longer at the mercy of the corporate world, so I took to social media to denounce their irresponsible actions. Soon enough, some of them noticed the swarm of negative press and quickly revised their policies.

When I asked a friend who also left the corporate world why working from home, a seemingly no brainer to combat a pandemic, encountered such resistance from some corporations and managers, she said: “it’s a power grab. They fear that if they are not seen enough, they will be forgotten.”

Again, the obsession of “looking good” fueled by corporate greed and power hunger further pushed us to this new harrowing reality.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There is no doubt that our society will never look the same after this pandemic. No one knows when and how it will end, but we must reflect before the wounds heal up and we repeat our mistakes again.

As a new entrepreneur, I am looking for creative ways to help our community. While the details are still in the works, I am dedicating the next few months to come up with a plan using what I do best to help us get back up on our feet.

Since the world went into lockdown, I have seen many kind actions that reminded me why I still have faith in humanity, even when we are not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. However, let’s examine how we got here and where we should go next. “Looking good” should never drive us to do things that go against the basis of humanity. Like Andrew Cuomo said: “practice humanity” — it may be our only chance to get out of this.

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