The incomplete coronavirus map — US territories left behind
Equally American board member Gretchen Sierra-Zorita writes for The Hill about the exclusion of the US territories from major publications’ reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. She argues the exclusion is often intentional, meant to hide the colonialist nature of the United States.
A review of several popular news outlets shows that while they’ve kept up with the spread of the coronavirus in most of the country, they have failed to report on the five U.S. territories. This exclusion is not trivial. If you think it is, imagine how you would feel if you looked at a map and your state was missing.
Maps are a symbolic representation of our world. They influence our collective perception of reality by what they include and exclude. If a United States map were presented omitting nearly 4 million American citizens — a population almost equal to that found in the five least populated states combined — South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming — it would send a message that they are not a priority in the nation’s war against COVID-19.
This foreignness has deprived the American citizens from U.S. territories of their political and economic rights for over a century. The residents of U.S. territories cannot vote for president or Congressional representatives. They are not included in federal data collection programs that facilitate research, analysis and planning, inform decision-makers, all of which ultimately impact the distribution of resources.
In fact, the U.S. territories are so outside “the map” that last week a Chinese satellite launching rocket exploded over the Guamanian night skies and nobody in major national news reported it. Would the press remain silent if debris from a Chinese rocket fell over Hawaii? Probably not.
This invisibility combined with public health vulnerabilities has made the residents of the territories justifiably anxious over their ability to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Unequal treatment in federal programs like Medicaid has left these remote islands with fragile health care systems. Underfunded and weakened by natural disasters — hurricanes Irma and Maria, typhoons Mangkhut and Yutu and the Puerto Rico earthquakes — the U.S. territories could be quickly overpowered by the coronavirus.
To Sierra-Zorita’s point, the exclusion of the territories from the reporting of most major outlets prompted us to launch our own dashboard specifically for the territories. Even as some outlets have corrected their maps to include the territories, the larger issue of ignoring these jurisdictions still stands, as exemplified by the lack of reporting on national outlets about the Chinese satellite explosion near Guam.