Coronavirus in Korea (코로나19)

I remember a guest coming in towards my expected flight date and asking me if I was worried about Coronavirus. I said no. At the time, the virus was mostly constrained to China, affecting me only in that my chosen flight path would have to have me transfer somewhere other than China.

What would I say now?

One of the many emergency alerts I receive throughout the day.

I’m not worried about myself.

I’m worried for my family back in the States, where my brother works as a pizza delivery driver, coming into contact with who knows what kind of germs; where my dad is considered an “essential” worker because he works in the food industry; where my mom finds herself with less and less dictation work as hospitals cancel or postpone all elective surgeries.

Where, you know, you can’t find toilet paper or basic necessities like, apparently, yeast, since we’re all going to come out of 2020 being master bread bakers.

No, I’m only worried about myself insofar as I might be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 and unknowingly pass it along to my students, who range in age from 6ish to 15ish. (I say -ish because Korea has a different aging system as the rest of the world, which usually puts them at least one year older than their “international” age.) And kids will be kids, especially the littler ones who run up to you and hold your hand when you’re walking to the gym, or sneeze directly onto your hand while you’re guiding them through an assignment. (This particular kid is a handful and wasn’t wearing his mask at the time, of course.)

Cases of ramen (six to a pack) sitting atop packages of toilet paper outside a shop.

No, I’m not worried about myself. Toilet paper? Sitting outside the grocery store on the sidewalk. Easy meals? Ramen is aplenty here, in all different types and flavors. (My life has personally been changed forever with the introduction of jja-jang-myeon, black bean noodle.) There’s hand sanitizer on the bus. Most everyone is wearing masks, and there’s enough to go around, as Korea has implemented a strict policy allotting the purchase of two masks per person per specified day of the week based on the end number of your birth year, e.g. my birth year ends on 5 and so I can buy masks on Friday when those whose birth years end in 5 and 0 can purchase masks. The delivery system in South Korea is unparalleled, and even if I didn’t want to walk the seven minutes to McDonald’s, I could have it delivered faster in the time it would take me to get home with it. (This also includes grocery deliveries.)

I’m worried about my former co-workers, who have suddenly found themselves without jobs. I’m worried about the hoarding of essential goods like toilet paper and bread. I’m worried that the US economy will never recover from this, and the various industries being hit hardest will be forever changed, in ways we can’t imagine. I’m worried, obviously, about the frontline fighters who didn’t ask for their lives to be a “sacrifice” but get ready for work each day anyway. I’m worried about those whose pre-existing conditions mean that facing the virus is a true battle for life or death.

Here in Korea, almost all of us wear masks. There is plenty of hand sanitizer. We make our kids wash their hands and use hand sanitizer before playing. We take our own temperatures and the kids’ each day. Thanks to Korea’s preparedness, its economy has not completely tanked in the way that the US economy has. Sure, public schools have been delayed for over a month now, but life seems to go on, and it gets more and more “normal” by the week as the numbers of recently infected each day in Korea dwindle to under 30.

I’m safer and more well prepared to handle life as a whole, healthy or not, in South Korea. I am really thankful that karma decided to put me here now, as my life back in the States would be a hellish nightmare right now.

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