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Influencer's 'Coronavirus Challenge' Is an Insult to the Chronic Illness Community

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On Saturday, influencer Ava Louise started the problematic “Coronavirus Challenge” when she shared a TikTok video of her licking a toilet seat on an airplane. The video, which she captioned, “Coronavirus Challenge,” played the song, “It’s Corona Time” in the background.

When she shared the video to Twitter she wrote, “Please RT this so people can know how to properly be sanitary on the airplane.”

A few days before sharing her problematic video, Ava tweeted that “coronavirus is for poor people and poor people only…” followed by:

Just remember you caught coronavirus because you’re ugly. If you stopped stuffing your fat face and lost some weight you wouldn’t catch coronavirus.

While later Ava called her post a “PR stunt” (luckily, the “challenge” didn’t catch on), her video and comments aren’t funny — they’re an insult to the chronic illness and immunocompromised communities.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) — new type of coronavirus that causes symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath — will affect many people, but those most at risk are older and/or chronically ill. These “poor people and poor people only” that Ava references are minorities and other marginalized individuals who make up a vast portion of our at-risk community.

Some of us living with chronic illness are less likely to be able to stock up on essential supplies, less likely to be able to afford time off work and less likely to have access to adequate health care should they begin showing symptoms. Some of us are more likely to live in areas where our rural hospitals have closed, or in metro settings where we rely on overflowing homeless shelters or hostels where community spread increases the risk of contracting the virus.

Ava’s mention of weight in relation to the virus correlates with attitudes too many people with higher BMIs face. Discrimination within healthcare will only increase as doctors are forced to choose who will receive treatment since respirators and hospital beds are limited.

The “Coronavirus Challenge” (and other humorous attempts to make light of the virus) puts the populations we need to protect in harm’s way. From people who continue to believe the virus is a “hoax” or not something to worry about since they’re healthy, to individuals refusing to engage in social distancing and crowding bars and clubs in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, it is clear the jokes are prevailing over advice from agencies like the CDC and the World Health Organization.

Social distancing is the precautionary measure being enacted across the globe in attempt to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Flattening the curve is essential, as demonstrated by a series of visuals shared by the Washington Post, which proves by simulation that the amount of people infected will be much higher if people continue to go about their day-to-day lives.

Social distancing is hard to enforce on airplanes and in airports. People arriving in their home countries as travel bans are enacted, people in the process of relocation like myself, students returning home after colleges have closed and people traveling for medical purposes all are being placed in rather tight quarters. Licking a toilet seat, and prompting others to follow suit — even as a joke — only increases the risk that not enough people will take this seriously and continue spreading the virus.

Navigating the germs on self-check in kiosks, arm rests and water fountains within the airport and then tray tables and seat belt buckles on the actual plane is difficult enough without having to worry about toilet-lickers.

Amidst the pandemic, many airlines have released updated procedures for how they plan to take extra precautions to ensure cleanliness on all aircraft.

Passengers can also take extra precautions by avoiding use of arm rests, having wipes and sanitizer handy, avoiding touching your face (skip the pretzels and peanuts) and washing hands with hot soapy water as often as possible.

Overall, minimizing and downplaying death and your own risk for contracting the virus is dangerous to yourself and to the chronically ill/immunocompromised people who live all around you, often without you knowing it. It is critical for the healthy population to shift their thinking from “only” being at risk for a sore throat of mild flu-like symptoms to being at a high risk of being a vector for the virus, spreading it to everyone you come in contact with, and in turn, everyone they come in contact with.

Right now, across the globe, we have the duty for our neighbors, friends and loved ones to take the virus seriously. Reach out to those who are most at risk and help them get groceries and other supplies as many delivery services we regularly rely on are booked up and it is unsafe for us to enter a busy store. Rather than spreading jokes you may view as harmless, be considerate and compassionate for the thousands of individuals being brushed aside and considered collateral damage during this pandemic.

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles:

Header image via Twitter

Originally published: March 16, 2020
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