Just How Contagious Is Coronavirus? <1 Minute of Close Contact Got People in China Infected

The reopening of the Badaling Great Wall in Beijing this past week with restrictions (health checks, no more than 30 percent of normal crowds) reflects just how much the epidemic situation has improved in China’s capital city, where I live. But it’s still a cautious approach – and caution does reign for many of us in how we live our lives.

For example, I still continue to distance myself from anyone I meet on the street, and sometimes six feet even feels too close to me. I’m not the only one who would rather stay farther away, as an article from the local Cleveland, Ohio news site attested to (I’ve closely followed the news in Ohio since much of my family lives there):

Linsey Marr, an aerosol virus transmission expert at Virginia Tech University, told cleveland.com in an email that any viruses released outdoors “will be quickly diluted such that there’s a much lower chance for someone to breathe in many viruses than if they are indoors.” She recommends that people stay 10 feet apart — the farther the better.

So while it’s perfectly OK to go outside for a walk or run, still it might be a good idea to cross the street if you see someone coming on the sidewalk, or keep your distance as you wait for them to pass.

This advice makes sense because the coronavirus is highly contagious. And shocking news reports of how people contracted the virus here in China have really emphasized this reality for me.

Consider this Chinese language news story, which in its headline highlights two cautionary tales: infected in 15 seconds while buying vegetables, infected in 50 seconds while picking up medicine (买菜15秒被感染,取药50秒被感染) [Note: I’ve included the original text along with my translation]:

杭州和宁波于2月5日和2月6日发布的两则确诊病例显示:一人出门买菜,和另一确诊者在同一个摊位有过共同驻留,事后被确诊感染;另一人去药房取药,和另一确诊者在吧台有过共同驻留,事后被确诊感染。这两起病例,共同驻留的时间连一分钟都不到,共同点是两起案例涉及的4个人,都没有戴口罩。

Two confirmed coronavirus cases respectively reported by the cities of Hangzhou and Ningbo on Feb 5 and Feb 6 showed: One person who went out to buy vegetables had stayed at the same vegetable stand with a person confirmed with the virus and was later diagnosed with an infection; another person who went to the pharmacy to get medicine and stayed with another person confirmed with the virus at the counter was later diagnosed with an infection afterwards.

In both cases, the time these people spent together was less than a minute. What these stories have in common is that the four people involved in the two cases did not wear masks.

根据宁波市江北区公安部门2月5日公共视频比对发现,1月23日早上7:47,该患者在双东坊菜场买菜时与路人(江北区确诊患者2:女,61岁,家住文教街道翠柏西巷,1月19日应约参加祈福活动)在同一摊位有过短暂(约15秒)的近距离共同驻留,且两人均未佩戴口罩。

According to a public video comparison of the public security department of Jiangbei district, Ningbo city on Feb 5, it was found that at 7:47 am on Jan 23, the man was shopping at the Shuangdongfang Vegetable Market with a passerby (the 2nd patient diagnosed in Jiangbei district: female, 61 years old, living in Cuibai West Lane of Wenjiao Jie and was invited to participate in a blessing event on Jan 19). The two had a short stay (approximately 15 seconds) at the same booth, staying together at a short distance, and neither of them wore a mask.

根据杭州当地公安部门2月5日公共视频比对发现,1月22日14时21分,徐某某从该医馆的药房门口处进入医馆,与杨某某(1月22日发病的确诊病例)正面相遇,当时徐某某在一楼吧台处取药,杨某某在外侧吧台处停留,有过约50秒的近距离共同驻留,期间两人均未佩戴口罩。1月25日、1月27日徐某某、王某某相继发病,2月5日确诊。

According to a public video comparison on Feb 5 by the local public security department in Hangzhou, at 14:21 on Jan 22, Xu Moumou entered the medical hall from the pharmacy entrance of the medical hall, and Yang Moumou (onset of illness on Jan 22, a confirmed coronavirus case) encountered each other head-on. At that time, Xu Moumou got medicine at the counter on the first floor, while Yang Moumou stayed at the outer side of the counter. The two people stayed together at a short distance for about 50 seconds. During the period, neither of them wore a mask. On Jan 25 and Jan 27, Xu Moumou and Wang Moumou [wife of Xu Moumou] developed symptoms one after another, and their diagnosis [of COVID-19] was confirmed on Feb 5.

Note that in both cases the people got infected in indoor settings, which underlines just how risky it is to be in close contact with anyone in an indoor space.

Wherever you are in the world, please stay safe – and keep a distance, especially indoors.

What do you think?

Coronavirus ‘Signs’ of the Times: Public Service Posters Seen in Beijing

First came the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, epidemic, followed by a flurry of public service announcements and posters. These posters in particular have become an ubiquitous part of the daily landscape I pass through between the office (just a 10-minute walk away) and home.

Previously, I shared with you my 11 tips for preparing for a coronavirus outbreak in your neighborhood.

Some of you might also be wondering, what kinds of things are the authorities recommending here to the public? I’m sharing a number of the public service posters I’ve encountered during my walk to the office and home, which give you a visual look at some of the advice we’ve received.

(Note: The advice below does recommend wearing masks, something we are all required to do here whenever we go out; however the WHO does not encourage everyone to wear masks.)

This poster, on the door to my building of residence, outlines six major things people should do to help prevent infections of the novel coronavirus. Clockwise, from top left, they are: Wash your hands regularly, eat cooked foods, wear a mask, don’t go to crowded places, drink more water, do regular ventilation.

This poster outlines four things offices can do to prevent the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, listed on the little white square in the poster. They are, from top: Wear masks, maintain good hand hygiene, regularly open windows for ventilation, keep objects clean.

This poster focuses on six things to be aware of during office meetings, listed in the small rectangular area in white characters. Clockwise from top left, they are: wear masks, bring your own cups, maintain distance, shorten the time, open windows for ventilation, disinfect after the meeting.

This poster introduces five principles for prevention of the novel coronavirus in elevators:

  1. Wear a mask during the entire ride
  2. Reduce touching or contact as much as possible
  3. Using the stairs is recommended for those on a lower floor
  4. When more people are present, they should ride the elevator in turns
  5. Stand a meter apart while waiting to ride the elevator

What guidance have you seen or heard in your area regarding coronavirus outbreaks?

Coronavirus: Loved Ones Once Worried About Me in China, Now I Worry About Them

Are you OK? Is everything all right there in Beijing?

In late January and early February of this year, the messages from family and friends, though brief, packed a great emotional wallop. I sensed the care and concern behind them, and I could understand why.

I had followed much of the Western news coverage of the novel coronavirus epidemic, and it painted a rather bleak picture in China, often characterizing the pathogen as “deadly”. In fact, it seemed that every story about the outbreak in China had to use the phrase “the deadly coronavirus” multiple times.

Except, my reality in Beijing was a lot safer than what these media reports portrayed.

Was the virus something we had to take seriously? Of course. But I live in a small and isolated community (which checks our temperatures when we come in and doesn’t allow outsiders to enter). And my office is a 10-minute walk away so I never needed to take the public transportation. There were hardly any people on the street, so I didn’t need to worry about catching something from a stranger; besides I was exercising social distancing on the street, keeping at least six feet away from anybody. And I was ultra-cautious in following the recommendations to stay at home, avoid crowds and crowded places, and just in general not socialize or go out if not needed.

On top of it, my husband could work from home easily and we were even able to go a record 12 days without buying any groceries. And when we did finally order some, we did so through an online service which drastically reduced the chances of any contact with another person.

Sometimes it wasn’t easy to convey all of this to folks not here in China. But I attempted to as best I could. I hoped they understood that I was in an ideal situation for avoiding any possible infections.

I also took much comfort from the fact that I lived in a country that adopted an aggressive approach to control and contain the coronavirus.

I never thought that, all of a sudden, the tables would flip and I would find myself fearing for family and friends overseas, as their countries are forced to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

The other day, family texted a slew of photos from local grocery stores, filled with the empty shelves that have made headlines. I couldn’t help worrying, were they able to buy enough to eat, so they can stay indoors? Do they have enough supplies to manage?

When I look at how other countries have responded to this pandemic, I actually feel safer here in China. How I wish they all had this sense of safety I had.

What I found solace in during the hardest of times was this — we were not alone in our situation in China. Everyone was staying more at home, avoiding crowds and the like. We were one unified front.

I hope they too will find that same sense of commitment and solidarity in their response to the coronavirus.

Whether or not you believe it, we are at war, albeit with an invisible enemy. And in wartime, I think of my loved ones a little more, and hope they will see themselves safely through this dark period.

Are you thinking of loved ones more during the coronavirus pandemic? How is your family managing?

P.S.: You can read more coronavirus-related posts here, including my tips for preparation.

Coronavirus: My Bread Flour Shortage Points to Curious Trend in China

Toilet paper shortages? Seriously?

I was stunned when I read news of how this bathroom essential was flying off shelves — and leaving them bare — around the world, all due to fears about the coronavirus.

I found it rather bizarre because here in China, we never saw toilet paper selling out in our supermarket. And apparently I’m not the only one puzzled, since news articles have surfaced on this subject, such as Why are people stockpiling toilet paper?

Still, the coronavirus has led to some unusual pressure on supplies that I never had to virtually elbow my fellow shoppers over.

Witness, for example, how in the past couple of weeks my favorite brand of bread flour, Xinliang, the best-seller in the online supermarket, has consistently been out of stock. I’ve been purchasing it for over a year and this is the first time this has happened.

And we’re not talking about just one type of Xinliang bread flour. Every single darned variety — white flour for bread, whole wheat flour, cake flour — in every single size — from 5 kilograms right down to 500 grams — is unavailable.

The online flagship store for Xinliang on Alibaba’s Tmall provided even less reassurance. While they were selling all my must-have varieties of bread flour, they came with a rather painful asterisk — that the store could ship them out as late as early April. Early April!

Now, granted, the online supermarket has other brands of bread flour on sale — but I’m stubborn. I really, really like Xinliang, right down to the adorable English words “Pure bread flour” printed on the front of its white bread flour packages.

Why has Xinliang been selling like hot jiaozi dumplings? Well, some recent coronavirus-inspired trends might offer some clues.

Last month, I wrote about how spending more time at home inspired me to get more creative in the kitchen, as I prepared more foods from scratch — including home-baked bread (thank you, bread machine!) — and expanded my repertoire, even creating my own homemade hummus.

The problem? Everyone else was steaming up their own kitchen cooking for themselves — and lots of them wanted bread too, by the looks of news reports. Consider this detail in the article Sales of cooking goods soar on online platforms (emphasis mine):

Sales of yeast, a necessity for making bread and pastries, soared by nearly 40 times while dumpling wrappers were sold seven times more than before. Seasonings were a hot item, with over 3.93 million onions, pieces of ginger and heads of garlic sold.

Data from Tmall International also showed that a UK multifunctional boiler, a Japanese sandwich maker as well as bread makers saw their sales soar 400 percent in its platform during the past one month.

So if more shoppers have been snapping up yeast and bread makers, then it’s no wonder my precious Xinliang bread flour has been missing in action in the online supermarket.

I keep waiting and hoping for it to reappear on the virtual shelves, checking every single week for signs of its re-emergence. But so far, no luck.

Meanwhile, I’ve observed shoppers moving on to a new brand of bread flour, touting how everyone in those Tik-Tok cooking videos uses it and posting their photos of bread hot out of the machine. It offered some reassurance, at least, that shifting to a new brand wouldn’t somehow lead to lackluster loaves.

But since I still have at least 3 kilograms of Xinliang bread flour left over — and a perhaps somewhat irrational attachment to the brand — I’m willing to wait a little longer.

However, if you’re one of the poor souls facing toilet paper shortages, waiting a little longer, depending on how many rolls you have left, might literally bite you in the bum.

Have you been seeing any unusual shortages in your area because of the coronavirus? Sound off in the comments.

P.S.: If this post inspired you to bake some more bread, consider heading over to When West Dates East for a delectable recipe for Shaker bread. And please, do your other fellow bakers a favor and leave some bread flour for the next person!

SARS vs COVID-19: Comparing My Experiences in China

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is not my first experience of living through an epidemic in China.

Back in 2003, a little over a month after I moved to Shanghai to start a new position with a multinational media organization, news of a deadly new pathogen that had apparently first emerged in southern China and since spread to Beijing, alarmed the public. It was called severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

As COVID-19 has exploded into our lives this year, I’ve often found myself reflecting back on my experiences during SARS in China, comparing and contrasting. Here are some of the similarities and differences I’ve noted since the novel coronavirus outbreak began here in China.

SARS never affected lives across China as COVID-19 has

Shanghai, where I lived at the time, only saw a small handful of SARS cases in 2003. And while I did wear a mask as a precaution and paid plenty of attention to hygiene, I still lived my life much as I had before the news of SARS surfaced. I commuted to work by bus every day, ate out at restaurants on the weekends, and went out shopping to buy goods and groceries.

Other areas more hard hit by SARS did see more stringent measures, such as school closures in Beijing, but it didn’t constitute a nationwide response. Nevertheless, for many people, SARS hadn’t penetrated that close to home.

However, COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has truly became a nationwide – and of course, now global – crisis, more so than SARS ever was. It has touched every single province or region of China, the worst of course in the epidemic center of Hubei province and particular its capital Wuhan. And that has meant that everyone in this country has felt the effects of the novel coronavirus on their lives in some ways, such as the following:

  • Spending time holed up at home indoors, in some cases for weeks
  • Residential communities closed to outsiders who don’t live there
  • School closures or delays in opening
  • Shifts to working from home where possible
  • Bus transportation between provinces halted for periods
  • Online delivery services, much in demand for people staying indoors, saw enormous pressure at the height of the outbreak, with many finding it tough to order groceries through their favorite apps (including us)
  • Businesses being slow to open after Chinese New Year and suffering losses due to the epidemic

In essence, the entire nation of China found itself in hardship together during the novel coronavirus outbreak, making sacrifices and adjusting to this new kind of normal.

Temperature checks less common during SARS, ubiquitous in COVID-19

Back in Shanghai during SARS, I only recall one place within my regular sphere of life that did temperature checks – the office building next door to mine that housed a Subway sandwich shop. Whenever I wanted to pick up a sandwich for lunch, I had to get scanned by this guard holding a large testing device that reminded me of a ray gun from a science-fiction movie.

I never imagined that this isolated experience would become an ubiquitous reality in COVID-19. As I wrote recently, every place that matters in my life here in Beijing – office and community – requires me to pass a temperature check for entry (leading me to dub my temperature as a kind of “passport”). And the devices nowadays are much more compact, and probably more accurate, than what they used at that office during SARS.

And if you want to get around your city, you will have to pass through plenty of temperature checks nowadays, including if you choose to take public transport.

Holidays were canceled during SARS, but extended in COVID-19

SARS shook up the world, and particularly China, in mid-to-late-April, especially when the numbers of cases in Beijing surged. This all happened close to one of China’s major annual holidays, Labor Day. Back then, we were set to get an entire week off. But due to SARS, the government decided to cancel the holiday in order to discourage travel.

However, during the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, outbreak, China instead extended holidays in an effort to encourage people to stay at home and not return to work too early. Across the nation, the Chinese New Year holiday, which should have ended Friday Jan 31, stretched until Sunday Feb 2. And even then, certain areas further delayed the end of the holiday, such as to Feb 9 in Shanghai.

Mask shortages more severe under COVID-19

After Jun and I learned of those handful of cases of SARS in Shanghai, we visited a supermarket that weekend to purchase some masks I could wear during my commute between the office and home. We found plenty of options and weren’t concerned about panic buying (though even during that time, there were some initial shortages of masks among medical personnel).

But with COVID-19, now that masks remain largely mandatory for anyone who wants to step outside of their community in China, a lot of mask hoarding has ensued.

Many people have struggled to purchase them as areas of China, including Hubei, saw shortages in medical supplies including masks. It created this nationwide mask crisis. In the early days of the outbreak, a story crossed my desk about all the stores in central Beijing that sold out of masks.

Fortunately, China has now reported producing more than enough masks to meet demand. Still, the novel coronavirus has migrated to other countries around the world, triggering similar runs on masks and shortages among medical centers of this vital form of medical protective gear. (It’s important to note that the WHO says only certain people need to wear a mask — and if you don’t count among them, consider not buying masks to reduce pressure on supplies.)

Disinfectant sells out for both SARS, COVID-19

When I wanted to buy alcohol at the local pharmacy during SARS, the staff told me they had sold out — a sign of just how widespread the panic already was in Shanghai.

In that respect, much hasn’t changed with COVID-19, as I’ve seen any kind of disinfecting product in short supply or not in stock. I’m fortunate I bought the bleach and other antibacterial cleansers I like to use a long time ago, because whenever I check on them online, they’re not available to buy.

Still, for much of the outbreak, I couldn’t even purchase my favorite brand of antibacterial hand soap and only just recently saw it available in my online supermarket. (I had to settle for an alternative, but that’s OK because any soap can effectively kill viruses.)

In both SARS, COVID-19, hope for an end

One thing that remains universal both during SARS and now with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, epidemic — we all wish for an end as quickly as possible. Every day, I continue to pray for all those affected by the virus, from infected patients to medics on the front line and everyone else concerned about its spread across the world.

Let’s hope the end to the COVID-19 epidemic comes soon.

What do you think? If you have experienced SARS and COVID-19, what are your thoughts?

Love Amid Coronavirus: Separated Lovers, Veggie Bouquets, Brave Medic Couples

As China and the rest of the world fights the coronavirus, for many people love lights the way through this dark time. Sometimes it takes a crisis for our true hearts and souls to emerge, and when they do, it can make for both beautiful and unexpected gestures.

When a nation like China calls for quarantines and lockdowns, which have left many bound to their apartments, love has to find new ways to thrive, as the China Daily story Love wins out despite lockdowns, quarantine describes, particularly in this touching scene:

Chen Ying, who was born in the 1990s, is a nurse at a hospital in Zhejiang province. Her boyfriend, Huang Qianrui, visited Chen at the hospital after seeing a photo of the red marks left on her face by the tight protective mask she wore at work.

Chen cried as Huang Qiangru showed her that he had brought her favorite crucian carp soup and snacks. Standing on different sides of the ICU’s glass door, they cried and spoke via their cellphones.

The scene touched Chen’s colleagues, who shot a video.

“Are you feeling better?” Huang Qiangru asked Chen, referring to the marks made by the mask.

Chen: “Much better.”

Huang Qiangru: “I want to give you a hug.”

Chen: “I want to hug you, too.”

Huang Qiangru: “How? We can’t.”

Meanwhile, how about saying “I love you” with a bouquet of veggies? That’s a new kind of romantic gesture gaining traction in the time of the coronavirus, as chronicled in the story Masks, goggles and alcohol wipes become hot Valentine’s Day gifts:

At a Shanghai grocery store operated by Suning, people can online order a 258-yuan ($36) bouquet made of fresh produce, including broccoli, carrots, chili peppers and corn. Customers can pick up the bouquet or have it delivered to their sweethearts’ homes, so that their loved ones don’t need to go outside to buy groceries and risk catching the virus.

This unorthodox gift was surprisingly popular, and the store has sold over 50 batches since Tuesday, the store owner told local media. A female costumer surnamed Liu said her husband is tackling the epidemic in Shanghai, but he still prepared her a “surprise”.

“At first, I thought I was going to a store to pick up some rice or oil, I didn’t expect a hilarious bouquet of vegetables,” she said. “Now I believe sending roses and flowers are super lame. Sending your loved one produce, now that is true love.”

Meanwhile, stories of couples fighting the coronavirus together have emerged, including a duo that didn’t even realize they were working on the same floor of the hospital, as detailed in Couples stand together to fight the disease:

“I saw a familiar figure wearing a protective gown in the quarantine area. The name written on the gown was ‘Yu Chen’. When she turned around, I saw her eyes behind her goggles. I was shocked to find her on the same floor,” Ke said.

Yu said it was only when Ke called her name in a voice full of doubt that she confirmed they were working on the same floor.

After a moment of slight shock, they went back to their posts to continue their busy tasks.

“I can’t say I wasn’t afraid, but knowing he was around eased my worries. We encouraged each other through eye contact,” Yu said.

Although they had worked at the hospital before the outbreak, Ke suddenly saw Yu in a different light: “In this battlefield, I saw the power and courage in her small body, like a totally different person. In the middle of the battle against the virus our relationship was not just love, but a combination of family ties and wartime friendship. I don’t think anyone or anything will be able to sway it in the future.”

What unusual stories of love in the time of the coronavirus have you heard about? Share them in the comments.

Coronavirus: 11 Tips to Prepare for an Outbreak (We’ve Managed in China, You Can Too)

Back in late January, when the novel coronavirus outbreak first exploded in China, readers from outside the country worried about my husband and me.

But as the virus has spread to more nations around the world, more people have worried about themselves – and what they need to do to get ready.

First things first – please don’t panic! If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to educate yourself on the basics about this virus. While there’s still much to be learned, as this is a new pathogen, knowing more can help you understand the risks and how to manage them in your daily life.

The WHO has an entire page devoted to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. In particular, you should look at their Q&A section, which can answer pretty much every major question you might have about the novel coronavirus. Their advice for the public is especially helpful.

Additionally, make sure to visit the center for disease control and prevention in your country and also follow the national and local news to stay updated on the latest novel coronavirus reports closer to your home.

Here are some steps you should consider in preparation for a potential novel coronavirus outbreak in your community, based on authoritative sources as well as what I’ve learned and experienced.

(Note that throughout this article, I’ve linked to Amazon, where I’m an affiliate – if you are an Amazon shopper and find my advice helpful, shopping through these links is a great way to say thank you and support this blog, at no additional cost to you.)

#1: Prepare enough food and other supplies to stay at home for 2 weeks

Staying indoors here in China has become a nationwide phenomenon, as many of us have had to become homebound for a variety of reasons due to the novel coronavirus, particularly self-quarantine requirements.

Even if you don’t have to undergo a mandatory quarantine, you might still need to stay indoors for at least two weeks or more, as an NPR article on readiness for the coronavirus explains:

Basically, you want to avoid crowds to minimize your risk of catching the disease. If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, the last place you want to be is in line at a crowded grocery store or drugstore.

The NPR piece recommends stocking up on enough medicine and nonperishable foods to get you through two weeks – and reminds you not to forget your favorite foods for when you get sick (in case you do come down with a mild case of COVID-19 and end up housebound).

Note too, the same NPR post reminds us all that “most household cleansers — such as bleach wipes or alcohol — will kill [the virus]” and “even wiping down surfaces with soap and water should do the trick”, so no need to stock up on special cleaners. If you have soap on hand, you’re ready.

(Note: As you’re doing your shopping, consider buying your products online with home delivery, if you can, especially if your neighborhood has a potential coronavirus outbreak. This serves as another way to reduce contact and avoid getting infected. Amazon, for example, offers home delivery on groceries.)

#2: Have a thermometer on hand

Fever remains among one of the more salient symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and you may need to monitor your temperature, especially if you happen to be at risk for an infection due to travel or developments in your community. If you don’t already have one, pick up a thermometer.

#3: You may not need medical masks

Medical masks have become a must-have in China, where everyone is required to cover their face when going out due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. But this requirement has, in part, lead to shortages and pressure on medical mask supplies. (Cue the hilarious photos of people wearing masks made of instant noodle bowls, T-shirts, plastic water jugs and, yes, even a thong.)

The reality is, not everyone needs a mask, per WHO guidance:

If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

So if you don’t need a medical mask, don’t buy them. You’ll only add further stress to the supplies and encourage price gouging.

If you should require a medical mask, but find them in short supply or out of stock, consider a DIY option. Here’s an article from SCMP with advice from scientists on how you can create your own mask (which the scientists say can be effective for the typical person during an epidemic).

(Or, if you want to give the public some laughs, strap a thong over your face.) 😉

#4: Rearrange your home entrance to help keep the coronavirus out

When the outbreak first started, I found this illustration from Beijing United Family Hospital as a very helpful guide to how you can rethink your home entrance, so you’re not bringing the virus into the rest of your home.

See if you can rearrange your home entrance, much like this suggestion, to further safeguard your own home.

(And if you want more inspiration for your home, see this post, which includes another diagram from Beijing United for how you might clean your bathroom with coronavirus prevention in mind.)

#5: Ask your employer about working from home

Several cases of infections originated at offices, which is why the government in Beijing has requested that employers, where possible, institute flexible work options such as working online from home. And in the event where people do need to go to work, employers here have also been encouraged to promote off-peak shifts, so people can avoid the crowding typical of rush hours.

If you can accomplish your work from home, not going to the office would serve as another excellent way you can reduce the possibility of getting infected. Ask your employer ahead of time about whether remote work or other home working options are a possibility. It may help prompt a companywide conversation about how to respond to the epidemic and also protect everyone who works there.

#6: Prepare for possibility of schools closing or home schooling

Schools have continued to remain closed here in China because they’re prime areas for crowding, which is a huge risk factor for the spread of the novel coronavirus. And here in Beijing, the authorities have set some very stringent standards for schools to reopen, whenever that takes place. In the meantime, schools have moved forward with online and remote learning for kids (including having some lessons broadcast on TV).

If you have kids, contact their school to find out what plans, if any, they have to deal with an epidemic. Would they close their doors and offer online learning?

Also, if you’re not satisfied with the response from your local school, is home schooling an option for your kid?

With schools closing or home learning, that would also require having someone at home to monitor and guide the kids. Also, make sure you have a plan for a parent, guardian or other caregiver to remain at home in the event school is closed.

Now, don’t forget the basics – good hygiene and other simple practices can go a long way toward keeping you healthy:

#7: Wash your hands first thing when you come home

Washing my hands after coming home has always been a part of my routine, but now even more so, given the WHO advice for the public has stated:

Wash your hands frequently

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

You’re probably already washing your hands after using the toilet and before having dinner. But also, wash your hands first thing after you arrive home, which helps to ensure you’re not bringing any viruses from outside or surfaces you may have touched into your home.

(Also, as a side note, if you are washing your hands a lot more, pay attention to hand creams and moisturizers, because washing will take a toll, especially during these colder months!)

#8: Avoid touching your face with your hands when you’re out

Since the outbreak started here, one of the things I’ve tried really hard not to do is something that most of us engage in all the time and never notice – something the WHO says in its advice for the public:

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Your hands will inevitably come into contact with lots of surfaces when you’re out and about, and you don’t know who touched that place before or whether anyone has cleaned it in a long time.

One thing I do when I feel like I must touch my face outside – pull out a tissue first and put it on my hand, so there’s no direct contact.

#9: Keep at least 1 meter away from people in public

Out on the streets of Beijing, we all steer clear of other pedestrians. And even in the office, I keep a distance from fellow coworkers. That’s because close contact with others is one of the primary transmission modes of the virus.

Now, the WHO advises: “Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.”

I would add, if you really want to be cautious, keep that same 1-meter distance from anyone you encounter in public. After all, there have been reports of people who were asymptomatic yet still tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

#10: Avoid crowded places or gatherings

One of the earliest pieces of advice we heard in China was to avoid crowds and gatherings. At the same time, the country moved to close down any possible places or events with the potential to pack in a lot of people together, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Even my community has asked us not to invite people over.

While it might put a major dent on your social life, avoiding crowded places or gatherings greatly reduces your risk of infection, and it’s especially important advice for more vulnerable individuals, as the WHO director said in recent remarks:

…if you are over 60 years old, or if you have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe disease. You may wish to take extra precautions to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

#11: Keep spaces, objects you regularly touch clean

Here in China, the major broadcaster constantly airs lots of public service announcements about the novel coronavirus. In a portion of one of my favorite segments (I like it in part because it is spoken by a health expert with what I consider a really cute southern Chinese accent) stresses that elevator buttons and door handles are a concern during the epidemic because these are items with a high frequency of contact.

This is the expert in a screenshot from the segment.

Every time I hear this, I’m reminded of the importance of cleaning the spaces and objects that are frequently touched – from door handles to keyboards to, especially, my smartphone (note that a recent report said the coronavirus could live on a phone screen for up to 96 hours).

Every day I aim to clean and disinfect these spaces and items as much as possible. This is particularly important for anything you carry around outside when you’re shopping or at work or otherwise, like a smartphone.

Think about those items you frequently touch and get into the habit of giving them a daily wipe with your preferred cleaning solution.

What other advice would you recommend to prepare for a novel coronavirus outbreak?

My Temperature Is My Passport, Verify Me – The Outbreak Diaries

This morning, the building managers decided to start asking us to physically write down our temperature every day we enter the premises, on a log sheet. It’s yet another change to get used to during this novel coronavirus outbreak, among the many changes I’ve already detailed. But it got me thinking of a certain idea – that these days amid the epidemic here in China, my temperature truly is my passport for getting around in this new world.

If you’ve seen or heard about the 1990s film Sneakers, then you might remember the quote from that high-tech comedy which inspired me: “My voice is my passport – verify me.”

Here, however, we only gain access to our communities, office buildings and, yes, even major public transportation through our temperature – a normal temperature of course (set at any reading less than 37.3 degrees Celsius).

That is the one thing that allows us to pass freely. That is how we get verified.

(Now if you registered a fever of 37.3 or more, you wouldn’t hear sirens and alarms go off, like trying to get past security in the movies – but you would be directed to the nearest hospital fever clinic!)

We’ve been living this for about a month already and it has become so ingrained into our lives that I think I would feel strange if the guards in front of our main building didn’t take out that temperature monitor and check me.

While some might make comparisons to dystopian worlds, in reality temperature checks just make sense, given that fever stands out one of the major symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and the new devices allow people to monitor this symptom with ease.

It also subtly reminds us all that health really does matter right now, amid the epidemic (which has made me care more about my health and, in turn, feel really great these days).

But let’s face it – this is a “passport” we all hope will eventually go defunct. So I look forward to the day when I have to remind myself not to log in or stop before the guard for a reading.

What do you think?

The Outbreak Diaries: Feeling Healthier These Days, Despite Epidemic

Healthier during an epidemic? As strange as this might sound, I’ve enjoyed one of the healthiest winter months of recent in the past 30 days or so, since the novel coronavirus epidemic started.

Of course, such an outbreak creates an inevitable motivation. As I detailed earlier in the post How the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Has Changed My Daily Life Here in China, we’ve experienced a lot of life changes that have made our health an important issue. We must pass temperature checks to enter the community and enter the main building. We have to report our health condition daily to HR as well.

And COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has symptoms that are very similar to the common cold. Which means, if you’re unfortunate enough to come down with a common cold, you might actually end up at the hospital anyhow for a check and confirmation you don’t have the novel coronavirus.

So staying as healthy as possible has really become my No. 1 focus over the past month. And that has meant things like more care with hygiene, avoiding going out or crowds, eating well, getting enough rest and just not pushing myself too hard on a daily basis. If I feel exhausted after coming home from work (which isn’t unusual, given that we’ve seen an avalanche of stories pass our desks because of the epidemic), I’ll just indulge in a relaxing foot bath and maybe watch my favorite nature series or finish off my latest book. I would rather rest more than risk overdoing it, which could lower my immunity and make me more susceptible to getting ill.

In fact, none of this is really earth shattering or worthy of headlines. It’s just good common sense that your mom or grandma probably told you about a long time ago. And as low tech as it all sounds, it truly does work.

(And also, to anyone out there who still continues to worry about me, my good health is a reminder that we are truly doing just fine, as I reported initially at the start of this whole outbreak.)

While we’ve seen a decline in new cases here in China, including a number of provinces and regions such as Beijing that have reported no new cases over a few days, the outbreak still hasn’t ended yet. The recent news of surging cases from other countries, such as South Korea and Italy, stands as a reminder that we all need to remain vigilant.

And authorities in Beijing have reminded the public here recently not to get complacent, despite the drop in new cases or reports of no cases. We still must avoid crowds in public, wear masks outside, and not pack too many people into the office, as many companies used to.

Which means health will continue to remain my priority, until the whole world finally wins the war on this novel coronavirus epidemic.

What do you think?

The Outbreak Diaries: Adjusting to a New (If Temporary) Normal in Beijing

When this outbreak first hit, it created a sudden tsunami of changes (and deluge of news stories – I’ve never been so busy here at the office during a holiday). With all of these different adjustments to life here in Beijing, at first I really didn’t know what to say because I was still kind of digesting everything, trying to understand the situation and how it was affecting me and my husband.

The major TV news broadcaster reports all outbreak related stories under the banner of The War on the Epidemic (战疫情). Now the use of the term “war” might sound scary, but in many ways, it does feel like China is indeed at war with an enemy (albeit a microscopic one), marshaling so many resources to support the fight in Wuhan and Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. And during a war, the whole country has to make some sacrifices to ensure victory.

For those of us on the ground, it means having to adjust to a new kind of normal. Not necessarily a frightening normal – but a temporary one with changes aimed at curbing the spread of this virus.

I detailed these changes in my post titled How the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Has Changed My Daily Life Here in China.

But it’s not always easy to get used to a new normal.

It felt odd at times having to cover my face whenever I stepped out, and to see other people’s faces concealed. The streets still appear largely quiet with only a handful of people out, in contrast to the frenetic pace of life that used to buzz around the block, as residents heed the recommendation to avoid going out. And I never thought I would get accustomed to getting a temperature check to enter the community, but I have.

I’ve found it helpful to remember that these changes have a positive aim, even if they might bring some disruptions to what we were once used to.

I don’t know exactly when I started to find myself falling into a more comfortable routine, but it happened at some point during this week. I think I’m fortunate, as I largely still do most of the same things I used to before the epidemic – going to the office (where I always wave hello at the guards), cooking and baking, reading books, doing our “walking program” at home, enjoying warm foot baths, and of course, watching movies (including those sappy romantic comedies I can’t resist).

And that’s the key to adjusting — when you discover that, underneath it all, your life still remains much the same. How grateful I feel that this is true for me.

In the meantime, I will continue to rise each day, go to work, and stay safe as much as possible. And I will pray for Wuhan, for Hubei province, for all those on the front line and the patients, and everyone else affected by this epidemic.

Because as much as I’ve adjusted, I look forward to the day when can adjust to another reality — that we’ve won the war on this epidemic.

What do you think?