Written by Conor Gourley and Katie Zhang, March 27th, 2020
Everything still seems unreal, only a week ago we were together in in Toulouse, now we are all at home in our different spots throughout the world. We certainly did not imagine this ending to the program – it was so sudden that we did not have the time to say real goodbyes to our hosts nor to friends. As our program was suspended because of the virus we decided to write an article about the different reactions to the virus by our different countries as a way to reflect on our experiences over the last weeks.
In the United States:
During my re-adaptation to life in Pennsylvania, I could see with my own eyes the American response to the conoravirus pandemic and the way many Americans were reacting. The day after I left France, Monday, March 16th, Macron issued the ‘shelter in place’ order to try to slow down the spread of the virus. Exactly one week later, on March 23rd, Tom Wolf, the governor of Pennsylvania, gave the same order for my county as well as six others. Even though it was a big step to reduce the infection rate, according to what I have seen in the reaction of other Americans, it may not be sufficient. Almost everyone with whom I spoke seemed to share the same view that the current government actions intended to help the country are not enough and it is not taken seriously. At the same time, many barely pay attention to government restrictions; especially young people who are less at risk and do not apply social distancing. Many friends have asked to meet up, if I could get to Boston to the Tufts campus to see them, or if I could go rock climbing in Kentucky. Of course I would like to go, but it is surprising to hear people who are disregarding barriers that were created as protections for our communities.
When we were in France:
I felt that no one was really nervous about the virus a few days before our departure (March 8-11th). Life went on normally- cafés and bars were full. Even as the number of sick grew by the hundreds per day, people were going out and hanging out together as they did always. Protests kept up. All the news media sent the message that there should be no panic, COVID-19 was just a bad flu. The president and his wife even went out to see a play to show that all was well. I began to get nervous when things got serious and yet those around me were not at all nervous. I stopped going out as often and avoided public transportation, while others thought I was over-reacting.
I know I was very nervous about the virus because I saw so much information about it from China. I understand how such a situation could become horrible and how the Chinese government treated the virus differently. For example, my temperature was taken 6 times before I disembarking from the plane. Then, I went through more temperature taking as well as an epidemiological report at the airport. I was not allowed to return home alone, nor could my parents come to fetch me. The airport informed my neighborhood and I was escorted home in an ambulance. I am now in self- quarantine for 14 days. Each day I receive a call from the authorities to check my temperature. Food and other goods are delivered to me.
All during the process, everyone I met wore a mask, at least. However, when I was at the Toulouse airport, I was the only mask wearer. That really bothered me and stressed me out. Therefore I did a bit of research to try to understand different reactions of different people regarding wearing masks. Here’s what I learned — people are already used to wearing masks daily in East Asian countries. In Japan, people began wearing masks to help with allergies, as in China several years ago, against increased air pollution. Yet in Europe and the US, there is a tacit understanding that only sick people wear masks. Additionally, in China everyone is required to wear a mask during the epidemic, while western governments have announced that masks are not useful for the greater public, further there are not enough masks for all. Such differences produce an opposite reactions about mask-wearing. It is very difficult to judge who is right or wrong, we need to respect both opinions.
Although it was different in the beginning, the world’s reaction is almost the same: stay home! It is certainly hard to do, but it is the most simple and the most efficient that each of us can do for society in these difficult times. Doctors and nurses are obligated to put themselves in danger from the virus, so what can we can do is to reduce our chances of becoming sick. Everyone has it hard now, but it is important to stay calm and to be grateful for the sacrifices others are making for us. I hope all will be well soon and everyone can emerge safe and sound!