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#COVIDCatLady, One Year On

A year ago, on January 23rd, I landed in Taipei, home for Chinese New Year, to find that the city of Wuhan in China had been "locked down" due to an pneumonia outbreak. The term “lockdown” was novel then, its ramifications unclear.

This January 23rd, I was woken up by a phone call informing me that a Didi (cab-hailing app) driver I had on January 15th had a passenger who tested positive for COVID, and that he was waiting for his nucleic acid test result. I was told to stay home until further notice. I proceeded to cancel everything for the day, and started drafting a quarantine packing list in my head while scrolling through my calendar, wondering how many people would be affected if I turned out to have COVID.

The fact that they had tracked me down so efficiently was impressive and comforting. I tried to tell myself that, worst case scenario, I’ll have to hire a cat sitter and endure bad coffee for 2 weeks in a bare hotel room.

The next day, I went to a ”fever clinic” two blocks away for my COVID test. With the recent cases in Shanghai (13 as of this writing), the clinic was pretty busy, and staffed by 2 nurse practitioners in full PPE. One of them inputted patient info into the hospital system, the other was responsible for both patient intake AND testing. Don’t worry, she was obviously double-gloved and sanitized/disposed of everything after each test. A few of us traded stories while queuing. Was your Didi driver in a Buick GL8 or a Roewe?

This marked my 3rd COVID test in the last 2 months. The last one was just before I took a one-week vacation outside of Shanghai. Yeah, the swab is long and sharp and shoved all the way up your nostril, through your brain, and out your ear. It’s fine. I wouldn’t do it for fun, but it’s nothing a little crying can’t fix.

My biggest strategic mistake for the day was not packing snacks. They only told me after I was registered that, VERY REASONABLY, I am not allowed to leave the building until my test result came back negative. Totally fair. But it’s not like a temporary building built specifically for screening COVID cases would have luxuries like a vending machines or a cafeteria.

With Chinese New Year around the corner, the biggest annual human migration event of our time, it was announced last week that anyone looking to go home for the holidays must present a negative nucleic acid test within 7 days of travel, amongst other requirements.

Came lunch time, a few people waiting for their turn were demanding to go out for lunch. The nurses firmly said, no, we haven’t eaten lunch either. Fair enough, they can’t eat without sacrificing a full set of PPE’s. Not the best argument for a bunch of hungry civilians though. One nurse said to an old lady: “You can order delivery or get someone from home to bring you food.” To which the old lady promptly responded: “My whole family is dead. My husband died years ago.” I booked myself a place in hell by snorting at this very morbid response.

A mere 4 hours later, the results came back in a stack, and everyone crowded around the nurse to grab their piece of paper. Did I mention social distancing hasn’t been much of a thing in China? Here, it’s been either “we’re closing everything so even if you want to go out, there’s nowhere to go,” or “fine, go places, but register your name, ID number, phone number at every turn so we can find you if you’re exposed. Also, show me a negative test result and quarantine.” Masks have never been up for debate. Fever checks have basically been in place non-stop for the whole year everywhere.

Shanghai had gone months without a non-imported case, but the recent community transmission cases have meant that many early-day COVID restrictions are making a comeback. Déjà vu.

There’s no “tiers” for lockdown in Shanghai. But there are indicators. To gauge the severity of the situation, I look for the return of hand soap in public bathrooms, event cancellations, and the amount of fear-mongering posts on social media. Hence, the resuscitation of #COVIDCatLady.

Oh, my test came back negative. Yay.


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