Politicizing coronavirus is making us hate each other online

Angry Asian man in grey t-shirt get mad on the smartphone.

Nobody is immune from coronavirus. As we’ve seen these last few weeks, people of all walks of life are getting sick. From famous athletes, to non-famous healthcare workers, high-profile politicians, and celebrated actors.

Many communities are banding together to face the global pandemic. But coronavirus is also deepening divisions. The way people gauge the threat of coronavirus, and whether they adhere to social-distancing guidelines, is falling along ideological lines. Conservatives think liberals are overestimating the virus’s lethality and want to keep America on lockdown to prove they’re right. Democrats are dumbfounded by Republicans, especially older ones, claiming they’d rather risk their lives than be deprived of their freedom.

Of course, a lot of the political divisiveness in this time of crisis is being egged on by the commander in chief, Donald Trump. The president has made no secret of his displeasure at the virus for tanking his precious stock market. But Trump has spread confusion and alarm with his declarations that America would be back open for business-as-usual by Easter — even though medical experts made him walk-back the statement and instead extend social-distancing guidelines to the end of April.

To be clear, medical experts maintain that social distancing is essential if we hope to contain the spread of the virus. As pointed out by The Atlantic, they also warn that politicizing the practice has dangerous potential ramifications. “This is a pandemic, and shouldn’t be played out as a skirmish on a neighborhood playground,” Dina Borzekowski, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told Stat.

Medical professionals say the worst is still yet to come, in terms of widespread sickness and hospitalizations. But things are already bad in metropolitan centers like New York and Seattle, meaning millions of Americans are stuck on lockdown for the foreseeable future, many of them in small apartments. The divide between haves and have-nots has never been more prominently on display. You’ve likely heard about cops in Rhode Island pulling over cars with New York plates to warn escaping citydwellers they should be on lockdown. When the virus started to appear in the city, pretty much anyone who had the means fled.

Naomi Davis, a New York City–based mom-fluencer who’s blogged as Love Taza for many years, came under fire over the weekend for deciding to pack up her husband and five kids in a rental RV and get the heck out of dodge. Davis stipulated they’d taken precautions to limit their interactions with other people: "While we’ve been diligent about self-quarantining and social distancing in New York City, we want to make sure we still stay away from others during our trip (even though no one in our family has had any symptoms, you could always be asymptomatic). For this reason, we decided to rent an RV in order to avoid hotels and people and just eat and sleep in the RV on the way," she wrote.

Davis and her family left New York City on Friday night, right before the CDC issued its domestic travel advisory for the tri-state area, asking residents "to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately." Last week, the White House also said residents of the New York metro area should “self-quarantine.” The reactions to Davis’s announcement from followers ranged from rage to confusion to, even, encouragement.

BuzzFeed News talked to a public health expert about the family’s road trip, who called it "highly irresponsible" and "not safe at all." Additionally, Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said their plan to avoid others was flawed. “The only place you can literally separate yourself from society is at home," he said, adding that New Yorkers need to listen to public health officials, not make individual judgement calls. “If everyone gets to decide what is safe, then we will just have chaos," Gostin said.

In the last few weeks, normal people have had unprecedented access to celebrities’ homes, where stars — just like most of us — have been holed up waiting out the virus and busy beaming themselves onto our devices. But the glossy excess of celebrity life — the wealth and privilege they’re often celebrated for — hits way different amid a deadly pandemic.

There was the whole “Imagine” fiasco, where Gal Gadot organized a starry sing-along to The Beatles instead of, you know, doing anything else. There’s also Ellen DeGeneres, who’s been lounging on her couch, cold calling her famous friends for kicks, which prompted comedian Kevin T. Porter to start soliciting stories about run-ins with DeGeneres, who he called “notoriously one of the meanest people alive.”

Even Jennifer Lopez, who we celebrated just a couple months ago (it feels like decades ago) for her dynamic Super Bowl performance with Shakira, couldn’t escape populist rage in the age of COVID-19. When JLo posted a video of her son goofing off in the palatial backyard of Alex Rodriguez’s Miami mansion, people snapped. “We all hate you,” wrote one. “I thought this was a Parasite meme,” noted another.

Meanwhile, a whole lot of regular people are facing real difficulty making ends meet in this time of unprecedented disruption. The New York Times reported that 40% of New Yorkers may not be able to pay rent on this month. And potentially even less next month, as the lockdown continues to leave thousands out of work. Reality sucks right now, no matter how you slice it. And it's certainly ironic that now, as we're all told to stay put at home, we seem most attuned to the way other people live. Hopefully, the next stage of all of this is something close to empathy.