BEIJING - Chelsea Cameron is a North Crawford High School graduate who now lives as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Beijing China.
Chelsea is also, at time of the interview, Thursday, March 5, in quarantine due to the worldwide outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19). Although Chelsea does not appear to be infected with the virus, she had returned from a vacation to Seoul, South Korea, which has led to her isolation.
Beijing residents are currently living a much different life in light of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak.
“Beijing, and China in general, is a very social culture,” Chelsea shared. “Before, it wasn’t uncommon to see old men and women coming together in parks to play Mahjong or sit, smoking and talking. Or in the evenings for families to come out and exercise in the parks together. Now, there is really none of that going on. Large gatherings are frowned upon. Restaurants are closed, and the ones that are open have strict rules that enforce mask wearing and people sitting apart. It’s really kind of sad for the people of Beijing.”
Chelsea has been living in Beijing for about a year-and-a-half. She had visited China previously as both a tourist and an international studies student during her time at UW-Stevens Point. After she graduated from UW-SP with a degree in international studies, she decided to get her ESL certificate and try her hand at teaching abroad.
“Beijing is very chaotic,” Chelsea noted. “It takes a certain kind of person to thrive here.”
To escape a bit of the hustle and bustle that Beijing holds, Chelsea planned a vacation to the Maldives, a small island nation in South Asia, located in the Arabian Sea. However, as things started to heat up with the Corona virus, she decided to change her plans at the last minute.
“I was seeing the news on the Corona virus and it was not looking good. I worried about China going into lockdown or being on lockdown, while I was in the Maldives. Two days before I was supposed to go on vacation, I decided I’d hop a plane to Seoul (South Korea) instead,” Chelsea said. “At the time of my departure, the risk of the virus was really low there and not much seemed to be happening. I felt less worried about getting stuck there for a long period of time. But, while I was there–halfway through my journey, the cases shot up and it became the number two worst area for numbers of cases.”
Chelsea did not let the fear of the virus dampen her trip however, as she still attended many of the tourist destinations she had planned on seeing. However, she did note that there seemed to be a lesser amount of tourists than she expected.
“The palaces felt kind of empty, but there is a big shopping district in Seoul that is kind of famous and an area where K-Pop fanatics hang out, and both of those places still had plenty of people in them,” Chelsea shared.
Upon leaving Seoul, Chelsea experienced no real hassle one would associate with traveling between infected countries. She also shared that her friend with whom she was visiting in Seoul recently flew to California and was in and out of the airport in the USA in 20 minutes.
“They asked her if she had traveled to China recently, and that was it,” Chelsea said. “They didn’t even take her temperature.”
Things were not as smooth for Chelsea upon her return.
“In China, there was a noticeable Corona virus vibe,” Chelsea recalled. “When I got to the airport there were people in protective suits, taking temperatures and asking me several questions. When I got into the cab to go to my apartment, there was a floor to ceiling plastic barrier that had a sticker on it that said in Chinese ‘Come on Wuhan! Come on China!’ and in English read ‘All Hail the Front Lines!’”
When Chelsea reached her apartment complex, she was greeted with a very unexpected shocking site.
“My complex is surrounded by a large fence, with two openings where a gate would be,” Chelsea described. “There are always guards at the gates, similar to having a door man at a big building in New York City. It’s very common. But when I got back from Seoul, there were big blue tents and people in protective suits taking temperatures and checking IDs of the people coming and going.”
Originally at the airport, Chelsea was told that people coming from a different country would not be put in quarantine.
“I had no idea it was coming, it was absolutely terrible at the time and very anxiety inducing,” Chelsea recounted. “They took my temperature again and asked me some questions. At one point, they needed to call my boss to verify I was working and I took a step forward and the community worker took a step back and asked me not to stand too closely to her. She also wouldn’t touch my phone to call my boss, I felt like a pariah. Interestingly though, the building manager talked on my phone without a problem and went into my apartment to get some belongings and bring me groceries. It doesn’t make sense. I do understand there are a lot of moving parts though, and sometimes there are lapses in uniformity.”
After the intake process, Chelsea was brought to another small apartment located in the same complex, but in a different building than her original space. She noted that there are around 100 others also on quarantine in the building.
“We have to take our temperatures twice a day, once at 9 a.m. and once at 3 p.m.” Chelsea shared. “Initially, we sent it in a group chat with all of the others in quarantine as well as the community volunteers. Now, they’ve created a separate app to enter it, which is much more private.”
The community organizers told Chelsea she was not to go outside under any circumstances, however, her agent that she works with told her it was fine to go out “briefly, and sneakily.” These ventures usually have just been to collect groceries from a delivery person, through the fence of her complex, never beyond the fence, and have been a welcomed break from the mundane apartment.
“I’m feeling okay,” Chelsea said of being stuck in quarantine. “I have 10 more days to go. But I don’t feel worried. I am young, healthy, and I’m not 65 with an underlying health issue. I am an anxious person and the uncertainty of it all is kind of tough to deal with. Cases in China are leveling out because of the hard core way they have of dealing with it. But, things are increasing in the rest of the world. Where it was paranoia about China at first, now the paranoia is in China, about the rest of the world. I would argue that it’s not quite nothing, it’s very contagious and easy to get, but, don’t go out and start hoarding masks and toilet paper.”
As difficult as the quarantine can be emotionally, Chelsea does acknowledge the importance of the steps being taken.
“China did screw up initially when it silenced the doctor who discovered the virus, and in a whole lot of ways,” Chelsea noted. “But, they seem to have realized that and are putting the work in to make it right and slow the spread of the virus. And now other countries must do the work to continue learning about this and things they can do to help and panicking less.”
Once out of quarantine, Chelsea expects her life in Beijing to be “a lot more boring and strict.” She noted that she will have to apply for an identification card to be able to come and go out of her building, but many of the restaurants and bars have been closed by the Beijing CDC or are doing delivery only. Along with the previously noted strict rules imposed on the ones that are open, limiting people from sitting together. But, life does seem to go on.
“While things are less social in Beijing than they used to be, from my limited view there are still plenty of people walking outside,” Chelsea observed. “I can’t speak about public transportation and the parks, but my window has a view of the street outside, and there is a fair amount of traffic every day, it’s not quite a ghost city.
Chelsea was also quick to point out, that although she is experiencing this from within the country of its discovery, it is not a strictly Chinese problem.
“The really important thing is that it’s an overall human problem,” Chelsea emphasized. “Someone said, ‘Disease has no borders,’ and that’s very true. People should be very careful and not use this outbreak as an excuse to treat Asian people differently or to use racist retorts. It’s been happening, and it frustrates me to no end. I could return to America today, and if I didn’t tell people where I came from they wouldn’t blink an eye at me, but there could be a person of Asian descent who was born and raised in America and be treated badly because of it and this virus. It’s a human problem. You just can’t look at a person and know. Oh, and everyone should keep washing their hands!”
The United States Center for Disease Control notes that “global efforts at this time are focused concurrently on containing the spread and mitigating the impact of this virus. The government is working closely with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, as well as public health partners, to respond to this public health threat. The public health response is multi-layered, with the goal of detecting and minimizing introductions of the virus in the United States.”Furthermore, the CDC recommends: Taking every day preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. These every day actions include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, as well as keeping distance from others when you are sick, stay at home when you are sick, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, as well as practicing other good health habits like cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods.