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Irony: Hate Crimes Surge Against Asian Americans While They Are On The Front Lines Fighting COVID-19

Smiling Asian female healthcare worker with arms crossed

Asian Americans and Asian immigrants are overrepresented in contact positions fighting COVID-19, at … [+] great risk to their own health.

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There have been a lot of encouraging stories about peoples’ acts of generosity and kindness during the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, human nature has its bad side too and the crisis has brought out some of our worst qualities including xenophobia, racism and, in some cases, violence.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants in the United States have been surging. It has ranged from verbal harassment to denial of services to physical attacks. There is no way to know, but President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” certainly doesn’t help. It is true that the Chinese government acted abysmally, for example, initially denying that the virus could be transmitted person to person. But China is hardly a democracy and the Chinese people were the victims rather than the perpetrators of this cover-up. 

In fact, Asian Americans and Asian Immigrants to the U.S. deserve our thanks for their role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. First of all, they are vastly over-represented among the front line medical workers who are treating those who have been infected. Seventeen percent of doctors, 9 percent of physician’s assistants and nearly 10 percent of nurses in the United States are of Asian descent. 

Asians and Asian Americans are also at the forefront of America’s efforts to find a vaccine. As of now, one of the most promising efforts has just been reported out of the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine. On April 2nd, the University reported:

scientists today announced a potential vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. When tested in mice, the vaccine, delivered through a fingertip-sized patch, produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus.”

This is good news indeed. Who is behind it? Two of the lead authors are Eun Kim and Shaohua Huang, both of whom are on the medical school faculty. 

Major Asian American contributions to the fight against COVID-19 are not limited to the medical profession. Asian immigrants and Asian Americans also comprise a large part of the high tech workforce. With America’s businesses and educators now almost completely dependent on companies like Dropbox, DocuSign, and especially Zoom, the contributions of Asians and Asian Americans have never been more important.

The CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, has stepped up to the plate in a big way. As my fellow Forbes writer, Alex Konrad has discussed, Yuan has donated untold amounts in free services to America’s schools. The fact that our students are continuing to learn during this crisis is in significant part, a result of Yuan’s generosity. While it’s true that there have been complaints about “Zoom-bombing” and privacy problems, Zoom is working hard on those problems, and the fact that it has been able to continue functioning effectively throughout an exponential, and completely unexpected, growth in demand has been a tremendous benefit to this country.

Perhaps a good way to end this piece is to note that next month is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. With any luck, COVID-19 will be on the wane in May (The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is currently predicting that, nationally, COVID-19 deaths will peak in mid-April). Perhaps May will be the month that fear begins to subside and, rather than scapegoating Asians and Asian Americans, we will be acknowledging their disproportionate role in overcoming it.

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