Nearing ‘normal’ in China

While Americans are bracing for the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, China has begun to emerge with hopes for a normal lifestyle resuming soon. Moran native Molly McEwan, who teaches in China, shares her thoughts.

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Local News

March 23, 2020 - 10:46 AM

Moran native Molly McEwan, with her fiance, Tyson Carpenter, said life has mostly returned to normal in China after about six weeks of health and travel restrictions to slow the spread of a deadly new coronavirus. Both Molly and Tyson are teachers living in China. Courtesy photo

Moran native Molly McEwan and her fiance, Tyson Carpenter, have been living in China for the past year where they work as teachers. They were out of the country when the coronavirus lockdown first began, and returned to China Feb. 10. They were put on a 14-day health quarantine, as much of the country required residents to stay home to avoid spreading the illness. 

Molly recapped her experiences in articles Feb. 4 and 17. She described scenes of temperature checks each time they left their apartment, only being able to leave to go buy food and having to carry official papers at all times.

Molly speculated what a similar nationwide quarantine might look like in the United States, and predicted selfish behavior with hoarding of supplies and food. 

The Register caught up with Molly to see how she and Tyson adjusted to quarantine life, and where things stand as China reports fewer new cases — and on some days, none — of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

1. After you returned to China, how did you adapt to being mostly confined to your apartment? When did the restrictions start to ease, and what is it like now?

After we arrived back in our apartment on Feb. 10, we were on quarantine to stay inside and have no contact with people. Our school ordered us groceries to be delivered, and we got by just fine with the help of our balcony and board games. After about one week, the school asked me to make a video art lesson for the students while they are stuck at home. The week after that, they announced their plan to teach virtually and keep both teachers and students where they live. Each grade’s set of English teachers distributed the workload, so we make one or two video lessons each during a two-week period. We have been covering about a chapter in that time frame. We still have no information on when school might return to normal. However, right around the time our 14-day quarantine ended, things were beginning to return to normal. We started seeing more cars on the road, more people outside, some smaller shops opening again, package delivery returned to normal, and our guards at the complex stopped caring when we came and went. Now, almost six weeks later (OMG I hadn’t realized it’s been that long) things are maybe 80% back to normal. We are still required to wear masks when outdoors. There are still temperature and health code checkpoints at every entrance. But people are back to work, smaller shops are all open, our gym is open (with a sign-in sheet and a lot of sanitizer). A few restaurants have opened again. We are still waiting to know what will happen with schools. For now, things are “normal” and we are working from home.  

2. What sort of advice do you have for teachers?

I have heard that pretty much every state (in the United States) has closed its K-12 schools as well as universities, which I think is smart. One of the main things we can do to help flatten the curve is to avoid forming large groups in enclosed areas. It is hard, and I miss my students a lot. I try to make my video lessons encouraging and fun, and always include extra practice material in the form of games. Kids aren’t made to study all day long, especially from home. Home is their place for relaxing, not an environment for learning, and not all parents are teachers. You can’t ask too much from them; kids rely heavily on structure and routine. They might not be as stressed as their parents, but everything they know about their daily routine and how things are supposed to go has been uprooted. It can be very troubling to them. I send messages to the group chat with the parents and keep up with their homework and make sure that everyone is OK and I work to maintain a relationship with my students. I think that’s the most important thing we can do right now. 

3. We talked about some of the issues you saw at first with people being selfish and hoarding. Again, that seems to be happening here. Did it get better in China? What were some of the things that people prioritized and how did that change over time?

The selfishness and hoarding did get better here. As people went back to work and things returned to a semi-normal, people have really calmed down. We have been making an extra effort to shop from local sellers and smaller shops to try to bolster the economy. The shelves in the supermarkets were always low on frozen food items, dairy, breads, and snacks. For the most part, we never saw anything completely emptied.  

4. Can you recount the timeline from when you returned to China after a holiday break?

We returned home on Feb. 10. There were very few cars on the streets (mostly large trucks and semis) and the city was very quiet. The guards at our complex entrance stopped checking our exit tracking slip around a week and half later, right about the time our quarantine was almost over anyways. Another week later, cars started to refill the streets, and smaller businesses began to open. The market street where we buy our groceries came back to life slowly, and is now all but fully open. Only restaurants are still closed. Last week we started seeing luxury service shops such as salons, seamstresses, and massage places opening.  

5. Have you started seeing a decline in illness reports? Is it clear why and when? Did you or your boyfriend ever get ill? Are you worried it will spike once people get back to normal?

There is definitely a decline in the virus here. According to my virus tracking app, here are some dates and the number of current confirmed cases (of that date): 

2/13 – 52,587

2/21 – 55,049

2/27 – 43,284

3/20 – 6,763

Sorry for that huge time gap, I didn’t check the app for a while.  

I can’t say why it has cleared so quickly. Of course, there’s no way to know what worked and what didn’t or if a combination of all the efforts was the key. In my opinion, the country-wide quarantine and thorough checkpoints at the entrance of apartments, office buildings, banks, supermarkets, parks, gyms, taxis, trains, metros, and buses (literally everywhere) certainly helped slow the spread. The people of this country took the virus very seriously and stayed home to do their part for the society as a whole. Tyson and I haven’t been sick at all. I am a bit concerned that there might be another spike if/when we return to school on campus (about half our student body are boarding students who live outside our part of the city), or the next time there will be a large number of people traveling, perhaps during the summer holiday. But it’s hard to say what will happen or how quickly this will clear up in the rest of the world. Just because it happened like this in China is not necessarily a good indicator of how it will be in other countries.  

6. What is the projection for the future? Any idea what happens now and next?

I don’t want to make any predictions! There is far too much uncertainty right now to pretend to know anything.  I don’t even know what will happen next here in Cixi, or back home, or anywhere.  The best we can do is live one day at a time and try to stay sane.  

7. And what sorts of conversations are you having with family and friends back here?

Right now, welcoming everyone to the quarantine life! For Tyson and I, we had three weeks of vacation together and got engaged, then came back to China and it has been another six weeks of quarantine with only each other for company…… And we have only tried to kill each other a couple of times! All jokes aside, we have been worried about our friends and family. So far, everyone is doing OK but I think about half are out of work. We have friends who are newlywed and just moved to a new city to open a business in January, friends who are pregnant, friends who are canceling their summer wedding plans, opting to elope instead of rolling the dice, friends and family our age or younger filing for unemployment… It is a scary time. We have been talking at least once a week with our families and friends, making sure we keep up to date on what’s going on over there. I wish we could do more to help. 

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