DRIFTLESS - In March of last year, former Soldiers Grove resident Chelsea Cameron had just returned to her home in Beijing China, following a vacation to Seoul, South Korea.
At the time of the interview, on March 5, Cameron was in quarantine due to the world wide outbreak of what we then called Novel Coronavirus.
Looking back at the story it now feels as though Cameron’s experience was akin to a canary in a mine shaft. The murmurs of COVID-19 seemed underwhelming as we all went on with our daily lives. Who knew that in a short few weeks, the world would slip into a deep isolation and situations like toilet paper hoarding would become a trend.
In the March 2020 interview Cameron was quoted as saying “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.” Cameron went on to share about some of the more strict regimens that China implemented as part of their quarantine procedure, such as tracking apps on her phone and temperature taking and monitoring while in quarantine.
Following the interview, the United States was sucked into the beginning of the pandemic whirlwind. Many of us were ‘sheltering at home’ and looking to those who went out into the world every day to complete tasks we took for granted about before, such as working in retail as heros. We ceased hugging our loved ones, and we ceased spending times together indoors, and judgement and fights broke out as we now had a critical eye and who did and who didn’t follow pandemic guidelines.
All the while, Cameron continued her life in China. The place that was touted as the epicenter for the pandemic. That has since endured extreme racism and blame against as they’ve worked diligently to quell the spread of the virus. All of this work on the part of this China has translated to success. With case numbers down, some individuals, like Cameron are experiencing privileges like some Americans feel as though are a distance memory.
“I’m having a great time in Shanghai,” Cameron reported over Skype at 11 p.m. Central Time, or Noon in Shanghai. “It’s an amazing city, and very modern. I feel a little guilty to have such freedom to go out and do what I want without much worry.”
Cameron shared that although China is facing their ‘second wave’ of the pandemic, this only equates to a small number of cases to a day. According to Statistica.com on February 2, 2021 there were a total of 2,435 new cases currently confirmed in the entire country of China, with a mere 130 of those being in Shanghai. In Wisconsin alone, according to the Department of Health Services as of February 8, 2021, there are 13,939 active cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin with 543 of those being new that day.
This success in China is due in part to what Cameron notes is taking a strict approach to their control measures.
“You can’t just say ‘I’m not going to wear my mask’ and shrug your shoulders and walk into the place that requires it like on the subway or bus, It’s either wear it or get out,” Cameron shared. “Out of all the places you want to be right now, it’s China. Saying this comes from a place of great privilege I have, but I essentially never worry. Shanghai is the third largest city in the world and I don’t worry at all (about contracting COVID-19).”
Cameron shared that her life has basically resumed as normal. She is able to meet friends at board game cafes, bars, and continue her job as a teacher with students doing face to face learning, she even plans to visit a novelty coffee shop that allows visitors to sip their espresso and visit with tame raccoons.
“I wouldn’t go to a hot spot and ask people to cough on me, but overall I am able to enjoy my life as normal.”
Because Cameron is in the education field, she was offered the vaccine, but had not taken it yet.
I was offered the vaccine, but again this is very privileged of me to say, I don’t feel like I need it. That is how safe I feel right now.”
According to NPR in a story published on Feb. 3, China is experiencing a slow roll out of the vaccine. “Only about 24 million doses have been administered, but those numbers represent only the first dose of a two-dose vaccine,” NPR reports. “That means at most, only 1.6 percent of China’s population received their first dose of the shot by the end of January.” It is predicted that China will need to vaccinate nearly all 1.4 billion of its citizens to achieve herd immunity. The NPR article also noted that “China is currently prioritizing health-care and transportation and shipping workers for the first round of vaccinations. Unlike most other countries, it is not vaccinating anyone above the age of 59 because it did not test the vaccine on this demographic.” The two primary vaccines developed in China use an inactivated virus, “a vaccine process that is more well-understood- but takes more time and is harder to scale up compared to the mRNA method used by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” NPR reports. It was also found in a survey that “China had the highest vaccine acceptance rates among 15 countries, including the U.K. and the U.S.” The article went on to echo Cameron’s sentiment of feeling safe by adding “Then again, with only a handful of new cases this week, China can afford a leisurely vaccine campaign.”
Cameron shared that another facet of the control that is helping to stem the spread of the virus is tracking. Locally, health departments seem to be thoroughly overwhelmed by contact tracing and virus tracking. Although apps have been developed in the U.S. to help make this tracking digital, they have been met with distrust, skepticism, and general lack of use.
However, in China, the QR Code or Quick Response Codes, a small digital square on your phone or device, has seemingly been a significant factor.
“QR Code is king in China,” Cameron explains. “It is how nearly everyone pays for goods and services. So on top of wearing a mask and temperature taking, you also need to have a QR Code scanned to get into places. If it flashes red, indicating you’ve been exposed or tested positive for COVID, you’re denied entry.” Cameron shared a story of a market in Beijing that experienced an outbreak. She explained that the government was able to immediately contract trace everyone who potentially was exposed with their QR Code payment and use.
Although, Cameron also acknowledged the potential shortfalls with the device driven system.
“I know someone who was having issues with her phone and she had to use a screen shot of when her QR code was working and in the green to be able to go places,” Cameron shared. “There is also a large percentage of the older generation who doesn’t use technology, or imagine a scenario where you have too much to drink and lose your phone and suddenly you can’t go anywhere. There are of course shortfalls with the system, but overall, it’s made a difference.”
A palatable frustration was heard for Cameron when talking about how the U.S. continues to face ever increasing death tolls and rises in positive cases.
“People in the United States are frustrated and paranoid about potentially being tracked to help get a better idea about spread but also don’t realize they’re always being tracked with their smartphones,” Cameron pointed out. “I do know that it is a privilege of being a foreigner living here. The fact that I don’t have to worry, but the U.S. didn’t have to end up this way, with so many poor policies, wow, and now everything just sucks. People like to say in China you have no options but also I think the people here are just generally more trusting in science. People in China aren’t mindless sheep and that’s a very unfortunate talking point on social media. Right now is the Chinese New Year and there are a lot of people who are making the very hard choice of not going home to see their families right now because they know it’s for the best. For many of these people it is the only time all year they would have seen them. In China from what I know there is just generally way less resistance. The influence from how it started, the havoc and terror COVID brought it made people more careful here. Caution isn’t out to the wind, although it is way less restricted than they were it seems to be safe enough that people are enjoying life. There isn’t a false sense of security like it seems is happening in the U.S. We have more freedoms here because we follow the guidelines and reap the benefits from that.”
Some interesting observations that Cameron also shared is the distinct lack of homemade masks. Noting that in China, everyone opts for the classic blue disposable mask.
“You almost never see a homemade mask in China. It is just so easy to go to the corner store and buy a pack of disposable ones. She also shared that in China a throat swab is more common than a nasal swab for testing.
Through all of this, one hope that Cameron has is with the change of political tides in the U.S.
“I have a lot of frustration when it comes to conversations surrounding the U.S. and China. It isn’t just a black and white blame game issue,” Cameron expressed. “Hopefully with the new administration there will be some easing of the tensions on both sides, because China plays the game too. Things could be so much more helpful if everything wasn’t a ‘us versus them’ mentality. It is not so awful as the news may want you to believe. No one is knocking on my door shoving a swab up my nose and trying to take my passport. Divide is the last thing we need in times like these. China doesn’t have to be the enemy China and the U.S. need to work through bridging gaps. We need to come together more than ever. We see what happens when there is so much divide. Also, wear your mask and trust science,” Cameron concluded.