Office of the President

February 11, 2020

Working together is our best defense against threats to health

Ana Mari Cauce

As you know from Provost Mark Richards’ message and another from Environmental Health and Safety, we continue to take precautions to reduce the risk of coronavirus in our community, including by restricting official student and employee travel to the most affected parts of the world. We are also working with public health officials to monitor the health of community members who have recently returned from mainland China. We will continue to err on the side of caution as we follow the best practices recommended by public health officials and infectious disease experts. The risk of coronavirus to the UW community remains low. We will also continue to share new information as we get it.

As important as our response to the coronavirus threat is our responsibility to avoid stigmatizing, stereotyping, and perpetuating the racism that can accompany diseases associated with a country or people. We must remain the same welcoming, diverse and global community that we have always been. We honor our commitment to inclusion by supporting our friends, colleagues and classmates who may be worried for friends and family in China. Our common humanity calls on us now to offer support, empathy and understanding to those most affected by this virus.

Throughout the course of my career, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of stigmatizing particular groups of people in response to a public health threat. History tells us that reacting with fear and prejudice is entirely unproductive in managing a health crisis; it only creates more challenges by disseminating bad information, inciting public anxiety and actually increasing the risk to the community by making people afraid that they’ll be persecuted for seeking treatment.

Thanks to work that includes that of our own UW faculty, our society has learned a lot both about fighting new epidemics and retaining our decency, compassion and humanity as we do so. All of us, as individuals and as a community, are responsible for treating each other with kindness and empathy.  We are best equipped to deal with any threat to health when we work together.