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Monitoring the Coronavirus Outbreak from Seoul

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

Two weeks ago, as we were getting ready for our trip to South Korea, there were as many cases of the Coronavirus in South Korea as there were in the United States. One week later South Korea has the largest number of outbreaks outside of China. How could the situation change so dramatically in just two weeks?

Many friends have been reaching out and checking in regarding the recent increase of cases in South Korea. Thank you so much for your concerns. Bill (my husband) and I are just fine. Here is a short post on our experiences and how South Korea has been managing the crisis.

Please note, I am in no way a public health expert, any thoughts about

the current epidemic in this post are simply my personal observations.

Seoul South Korea is a remarkable clean city. Homes, businesses and public spaces, such as the subway, are all kept in meticulous order. Because of this, there is a general sense of cleanliness and safety as you move around the city. I would include the traditional Korean markets and even the street food vendors as having this focus on presenting a tidy public face.

Almost everyone you see on the street is wearing a face mask and these are widely available throughout the city. I am told that face masks are common in the spring when Korea suffers from factory smog moving across the Yellow Sea from China. Government programs have banned the hoarding of masks and in some areas, masks are being distributed to the general public by the government. Public bathrooms are readily available with soap and hot water and businesses, including restaurants, have been asked to provide liquid hand sanitizer to patrons before entering their establishments.

As in the United States, Emergency Disaster Alerts come on our phones regularly. In the past week they have been coming in more frequently. Messages include how to seek medical help if you are showing signs of the virus and more recently notices of where recent outbreaks have been detected and how to avoid these areas. As cases here have increased, Koreans have been experimenting with drive through clinics where you won’t need to get out of your car to get diagnosed. I suspect many countries will be following Korea’s lead and modeling their own responses to this calm and thoughtful approach.

Many public meetings have been canceled including a meeting I was to attend next week at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Public performances such as the symphony and theatre performances have been canceled, and museums are also closing. Most, if not all, schools in South Korea have been delayed. These delays include kindergarten through university level programs. Because of the delays many parents are finding it difficult to secure childcare. My university is currently on a two-week delay and is scheduled to start on March 16th. With the recent increase of cases I personally wonder if this delay may be extended further.

Korea felt secure in their isolation from the outbreak safe on their peninsula, until the secretive practices of just one religious group seemed to increase recorded cases at an unimaginable pace. The news reports this past week shared that the increased number of cases were due, in great part, to the actions of Patient 31 and the backward beliefs of her science denying church. It brings to mind the need to approach this crisis globally through a measured and open sharing of knowledge. Whether in the United States, in South Korea or in some other country we must not isolate ourselves. Instead we all need to be aware of the spread of COVID19, so we can all work to contain it. The world has never felt so small.

Again – many thanks for your concerns.

We are healthy and staying safe.

Thanks for listening.

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