Coronavirus has sparked public anxiety, is ‘call to action,’ Duke professor says

Durham County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A steady number of travelers made their way through Raleigh-Durham International Airport this weekend.

Theresa Heath came home to the Triangle from New York.

“Our departure left a little early, and we arrived almost a half an hour early,” Heath said.

While traveling, she’s seen others taking precautions as the coronavirus outbreak continues to dominate the headlines.

“A lot of people with masks on over their faces [and] a lot of places are sold out of masks,” Heath said.

Dr. Priscilla Wald, an English professor at Duke University, studies public narratives about disease and epidemics.

She believes the coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread media attention and public anxiety.

“Each time we’re in a situation like this, we immediately go into panic mode, crisis mode, that has all kinds of problems, including stigmatizing people. We’ve seen racism, all kinds of things,” Wald said. “Somebody starts seeing photographs of somebody in a hazmat suit or face masks, a whole population wearing face masks, it immediately triggers that panic response.”

She believes the focus should not just be on alerts, but related issues, including poverty.

“If people are malnourished, they’re more susceptible,” she said. “If people are living in close quarters, there’s more likely to be contagion.”

Another, she said, is access to healthcare.

“It’s not only the most humanitarian thing we could be doing — it also makes economic sense,” Wald said. “It also makes healthcare sense. Why aren’t we doing it? Here’s a moment to talk about it.”

As for Heath, she agrees and is not concerned about the outbreak while in the skies.

“I think people are maybe even more aware of how to protect themselves,” Heath said. “If I was traveling to any area that had a known outbreak, I would definitely not travel.”

Recently, North Carolina health officials tested for a possible case of coronavirus, with someone traveling through China and arriving at RDU. State health officials said those test results came back negative.

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