The coronavirus has been the topic of global conversation for the last month, causing mass hysteria and worldwide panic. Stores have been unable to keep protective face masks in stock and Corona beer sales have declined, given the association to the coronavirus name. Apple warns that there may be iPhone shortages due to the virus and U.S. stocks continue to plummet, mimicking 2008 lows. Saudi Arabia has suspended travel to one of the holiest sites in the religion, Mecca, because of health concerns. The travel industry continues to be devasted by the virus as many businesses and travelers have growing concerns over flying. Companies are taking the necessary precautions to ensure their employees are safe by encouraging employees to work remotely. Consumers have raided grocery stores as some supplies become limited and gas prices have plummeted. As the virus continues to spread, people are taking the measures they deem necessary to keep themselves safe.

The frenzy that the coronavirus has caused has unsurprisingly sparked more xenophobia and racism. CNN reported a few weeks ago that a man on a Los Angeles subway was overheard saying that Chinese people are filthy and bring diseases from China. The same CNN report features multiple stories from people of Asian descent who have been attacked or the victim of a physical or verbal assault in the last few weeks. The racism that many people of Asian descent are currently experiencing is strangely reminiscent of the U.S. in the 1800s after The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed. The act was passed based on the false belief that the decreased wages and economic hardship that the West Coast was facing at the time were due to the Chinese workers. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that bigotry and bias has followed the spread of a virus. In 2014, the Ebola virus was causing concern all around the world. As the number of Ebola cases increased, so did the incidents of racism against those of African descent. The Ebola outbreak and the reaction that followed is akin to what has shadowed the spread of the coronavirus. Fear and ignorance are a dangerous combination and have catalyzed into the spreading of fiction and falsehoods.

So, what are the facts? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people of Asian descent are no more likely to get the coronavirus than anyone else. Secondly, despite the 24/7 reporting about the virus, which is officially called COVID-19, the likelihood of someone within the U.S. contracting the virus is relatively low. Also, individuals who are quarantined pose little to no risk to the general population. It’s important to share the facts with others to stop the spread of false information. Organizational leadership can play a vital role in both educating employees and stopping discriminatory behavior from taking place. It is critical to send employees updates with the facts, as well as preventative measures that should be taken to avert contracting the illness. In addition, leadership should stress the importance of nipping prejudiced behavior in the bud. Anyone that witnesses the perpetuation of negative stereotypes should be encouraged to speak up and report it. Bystander training is an invaluable investment that every company should be making, especially during times of crisis. It’s also important to help employees understand how easy it is to lean on our stereotypes during times of fear and uncertainty. Ensuring that employees are equipped with the facts and are prepared to intervene if they witness discrimination taking place will help you cultivate a culture of inclusion inside and outside of the workplace.

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