Fears of coronavirus disrupt local Chinese cultural events

Ann Vettikkal | Staff Writer

After the controversial cancellation of the Chinese National Honor Society’s annual Chinese New Year festival, a smaller celebration was put on during Connect Time.

7,453 miles from the source of the sickness, the 2019 coronavirus has had more success creating concern than spreading infection here at Mason High School. 

Coronavirus is actually an umbrella term that houses many viruses. The most recent one is the 2019 coronavirus that can lead to severe respiratory illnesses or in some cases, death. In December 2019, the coronavirus started to spread from Wuhan, China. But the spread of its infection is not nearly as fast as the rumors about it. 

Vice President of the Chinese National Honor Society Kayla Baah broke down the chain of events that cancelled the Chinese New Year celebration at Mason High School which was scheduled for January 31st. 

“It was kind of sad because it started off as a joke,” Baah said. “People were jokingly saying, ‘what if the coronavirus got spread around?’ Then people were saying that some of their New Year parties got cancelled because of the virus. Our [AP Mandarin] class sent an email to Mr. Dodd and [the administration] responded that for safety reasons, if people don’t want to go they don’t have to show up.”

There was not one specific person or group that held total responsibility for the cancellation. Baah said that what started out as a precautionary measure turned into a legitimate from parents that voiced their concerns. 

“The rumor just kept spreading,” Baah said. “It made it harder for me as the organizer of the party to keep things together. There was never any malicious intent but it just snowballed and got worse and worse. It’s not something that should’ve been joked about. Once the parents figured out, that’s when it really became a problem. I get it — they’re trying to protect their kids.”

For the Chinese community, this celebration is a cultural keystone. Junior Olivia Rui considered it a “Chinese version of Christmas” that results in families getting together with time off and celebrating with traditions such as lion dancing and paper cutting. 

According to Principal Bobby Dodd, it was not the administration’s choice to cancel the event. Rather, a culmination of factors that lead to the Schoology message sent out the morning of the celebration. 

“Each year, some people from Miami University come to the event and there had been some reports that they had quarantined a couple people in Miami. Mrs. Nian contacted the administration and told us she’d received some emails from parents who were concerned for their kids [in Mandarin] that had to attend the event. She told me she didn’t feel comfortable after receiving more emails from parents and she didn’t think she’d have enough students to hold the event.”

Dodd said the short explanation in the initial Schoology message that announced the cancellation was so that “Mrs. Nian or Miami didn’t look bad or were put in a negative light.”

“I realized that my original [message] needed more detail,” Dodd said. “But I didn’t want to cancel the event at all. I don’t think Mrs. Nian did either. But if students are going to help with the event and the students aren’t going to be there, then it’s best for us to [cancel] the event.”

The celebration at MHS was not the only one to get cancelled. Senior Claire Hu, who is part of a Chinese dance company, Bing Yang Chinese Performing Arts Center, said that her dance performances for the Chinese New Year were also called off, for many of the same reasons. 

“There was a lot of fear from everyone that something could happen,” Hu said. “A lot of people from China and international students come together for these performances. At first, I thought it was really lame. We’re almost 10,000 miles away [from China]. But I kind of get it. Statistically, your chances of getting it are bigger — but still negligible.”

The fears over coronavirus have done more than just cancel the event. The infection’s reach and death toll that continue to rise in China have become omnipresent headlines in the U.S. news cycles, leading to targeted jokes, according to Baah.

“It’s very traditional for families to go home to China or for people from China to come here on New Year,” Baah said. “So there was a legitimate fear. But I don’t think it excuses the fact that people were joking about it, saying, ‘oh, there’s a Chinese person in my class. They’re going to give me coronavirus.’ That’s not acceptable.”

For those in China, the situation is much more dire. In the face of the coronavirus, Hu talked about how the Chinese government has been handling the situation. Her relatives, who live near Beijing, are on lockdown, meaning they cannot leave their residence without getting checked by patrols and they must wear a mask. 

“The sentiment from the government is very positive, almost diminishing the gravity of the situation” Hu said. “[My relatives] are so unconcerned. The Chinese government might not be reporting the right numbers. I don’t want them to let down their guard and have something bad happen.”

Unless something drastic occurs, it is unlikely that the streets of Mason will go on lockdown. It was a shame that the event could not occur, according to Baah. For her, Chinese New Year is a special time guided by long standing traditions like the red, money-filled envelopes, or hóng bao, given to friends and family, a symbol of good luck. 

“This was the biggest way that CNHS got out to the public,” Baah said. “We’re able to share a lot of Chinese culture every year. We carried out traditions like firecrackers and hóng bao. It was really sad that it was cancelled this year. You never had to pay and it was a cool way for the community to interact.”

Photo by Shravani Page