COVID-19: Firsthand Account from Qingdao, China

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face of a mask-wearing woman with fear in the eye.

COVID-19: Firsthand Account from Qingdao, China

Abstract

In this communication from Richard Page, he shares his firsthand experience being in Qingdao during the outbreak of COVID-19. Using years of training and experience, Richard provides his own personal action plan on how to respond to local epidemic.

Main Article

There is no crisis so big that it cannot be overcome through persistent and applied effort.

In December this year I began to see disturbing reports that a new disease was in Wuhan and on January 6, 2020 I saw a notice that a novel coronavirus was identified as the problem. On January 11 I realized that there was a grave concern, and by January 20, the day before my 47th birthday, I put in place a set of measures that my family could take to remain safe.

As the shock of what was happening began to make itself apparent and the fear was palpable in our community, I mentally reviewed the training I received when I worked in Emergency Management. Bat viruses are deadly serious diseases. I had witnessed their devastating effect before in South East Asia and I was not going to allow anyone to expose my wife, our dogs, our neighbors, or others in our community to the same experience.

What I am writing today is not part of my professional writing in political science, or fisheries sciences. It is a reflection of what my wife and I did to prepare for a disaster. That said, what I am writing could be the most important thing I have ever written to someone if anything in it helps you protect your family.

The Qingdao Epidemic and Response

The government of Qingdao has done an exceptional job protecting the population and keeping people safe. Its emergency management team should be commended, but the responsibility for keeping my family safe was my own decision and I did not treat it nonchalantly; rather I treated it with the seriousness of a full blown and deadly pandemic as soon as I saw that it was a atypical novel coronavirus.

never put a large group of people into a panic; rather prepare them well

My colleagues and friends in the US, Canada and Europe were perhaps too critical of my alarm, but my response was more in line with what I was seeing. In a viral pandemic, it is important to be aware of people’s reactions to the virus and to take immediate steps to protect yourself, your family and loved ones. This is the lesson of the entire history of epidemics: never put a large group of people into a panic; rather prepare them well. An epidemic is a fight and you need to respond to it as such. As quickly as I could, it was my goal to have a plan in place for each eventuality in this scenario and take practical steps that would allow this to occur and endure it together.

My personal protection plan was based on my training in emergency response and following the guidance of field manuals to protect lives. When China announced a quarantine around Wuhan on January 23, 2020, I knew it was a deadly problem that demanded a serious response. China would not effectively lockdown one of its largest cities, an economic hub for its people, if this was not a disease of grave concern.

This list represents a partial explanation of what I did and the information I collected along the way as the event unfolded.

Personal Protective Equipment

  1. N95-n100 masks were used persistently for every trip outside the house. In elevated risk zones, a respirator was used instead.
  2. Sanitizers were used on hands, and anywhere skin to surface contact could take place. I followed handwashing at 30 seconds (not 20 seconds) after seeing that health workers in Wuhan were falling ill and following the 20 second rule.
  3. We sanitized all areas where skin to surface contact could take place outdoors such as the handle of a grocery cart, steering wheel, seats and dogs’ leash. I considered any district with greater than 5 cases a potential outbreak zone. I used sanitizer wipes and a small mixture of bleach and water in a spray bottle for other surfaces.
  4. I watched on the news as healthcare professionals were falling ill, dying and was alarmed when it appeared that mucous membranes were a possible route of exposure. I made the use of sunglasses, or goggles when going anywhere we could be exposed, an important part of the routine.
  5. From the beginning I used easily-washable protective clothing. In my case, Gore-Tex, and rubber boots could be washed more easily than my shoes for long trips to the store. We used a 70% alcohol solution in spray bottles to decontaminate shoes and clothes.
  6. Latex gloves were worn to every major outing and area where contamination could take place.

Protective Practices

  1. Grocery store trips were strictly limited to the 1 week/1 trip/1 person Only one person was allowed to go out and purchase supplies, and this was reduced to a maximum of once per week to reduce unnecessary exposure.
  2. We practiced social distancing at 2 meters (6.5 feet).
  3. Starting in February, we began the process of transferring work online. The government mandate protected livelihoods, ensuring that the minimum wage would continue to be paid to all workers. This was a very wise policy.
  4. I packed an emergency kit and first aid with flashlights, candles water purification tabs, iodine, batteries, and a cart to haul our drinking water deliveries over campus as it was shutting down all access.
  5. Together, my wife and I instituted regular floor disinfection with a suitable cleaner, and we began to follow the cleaning routines that Dr. Hermann Biggs used in the great typhus epidemic of New York City.
  6. During February, we made it a policy to limit outdoor exposure in the epidemic zone, or districts with the largest officially recognized caseload. In Qingdao this was made easy thanks to government actions. We began rationing trips to the store and made the 1 week, 1 week/1 trip/1 person rule a part of the weekly routine while helping our neighbors.
  7. Cleaning shoes is particularly important, so on every trip outside we would take time to put shoes outside or decontaminate them when they entered the apartment.
  8. Engagement in disinfection activities based on the principles above proved effective in boosting morale and helping us endure the stress of isolation. While we all had meltdowns from time to time, we did our very best to cope by staying focused on the mission of serving our family and community by extending a hand to help any neighbors who needed it. I made it a rule that anyone who asked for support would get it, and early in the outbreak we helped several people in our WeChat (social media) circle navigate the crisis. We also kept in touch and would ask others if they were safe to help reassure them that they were not alone, even if we felt like it at times.

As China was implementing its emergency procedures, we were implementing ours to complement their effort, protect ourselves and our neighbors. Hopefully with planning and interventions in place, it will be over soon.  Time has never been on our side, so it is essential to seriously prepare, be thankful for whatever time we do have, and take comfort in the fact that, through it all, we have each other.

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