There’s not going to be much Science here today. No data or charts or math at all. Though that’s all a part of what’s keeping me up at night lately, I don’t have any way to verify numbers. Nothing makes sense here to me. Today, I just need a space to put these thoughts down and let them be somewhere else besides in my head. I hope it works. At least a while.
Since the end of 2019 the world has been in a state of crisis-control with more emphasis on the crisis than on the control. Governments and people alike have made this a political talking piece to hype up blame and sometimes brotherhood; the former hyped so much more than the later. Waves and variants have kept this nightmare haunting every nation on our planet for three years.
From the beginning days – days when stores could not keep any food, soap, or paper in stock and city streets looked like scenes in an apocalypse flick – reliable information has been a precious and rare commodity. And for inconceivably stupid reasons, it’s also been harder to come by than toilet paper or hand-sanitizer. Infection numbers, deathrates, whodoneit claims about where the virus originated, vaccine efficacy data – it’s all been like trying to decipher Nostradamus’ verses while listening to your friend explain his half-baked screenplay idea and a tornado rips a part your house. At the same time.
Many lock-downs, stretches of online school, half a dozen Health Apps, and dozens upon dozens of throat swab tests later and information is still the biggest stressor. The overflow of information and misinformation, that is.
Now that China has completely abandoned its zero-COVID policies, a whole new storm has hit: the social media symptoms sharing videos. Can’t turn on your phone or open WeChat without getting a look at someone’s bloated, splotchy, stuffy, snotty, tear-stained, feverish face crying into a camera about the way they feel during or right after having COVID. People need to feel a sense of community, to feel that they are connected to others. I get that. And I don’t blame them for turning the camera on themselves in their time of suffering and discomfort. I’m just not a fan. Then there’s the videos about the deaths; from famous people to well-known college professors and the common everyman, these videos are just increasing. At the same time, there are Chinese and foreign men and women dressed in medical scrubs claiming to be doctors, spreading advice and information on how to deal with COVID symptoms. A lot of these people seem to have the best of intentions, but some of them say nothing more than rest a lot, drink a lot of water, and don’t take showers for a while or exercise after contracting COVID. The first two are fairly straight-forward. The last two less so. Which leads me to another type of video and news: the causes-of-death information. There have been a lot of stories about young people or relatively healthy people catching COVID, getting through the worst of it, and then showering, only to die either during or right after the shower. Or they feel great, go workout, and then they die. In this madness are stories about people catching COVID multiple times, each time being worse than the time before, and then they die. There are other stories about people feeling fine, but then have a slight cough, and they go see a doctor to learn their lungs have just about no oxygen in them, and then they die. Still, there are stories about people catching COVID, healing, and then traveling, only to develop another fever in the hotel, and then they die. And my mother-in-law just tried to tell me now you can’t drink coffee after having COVID because she’s heard about people who have…and then they die. Some of these are easy to mythbust while others aren’t.
My mother-in-law has been living with us for a few weeks because her brother has COVID. My mother-in-law has been sharing her place with her brother, and her brother and his son tested positive. This was while she was at our place for the afternoon. So, she’s just been with us since. Can’t have her going home just to catch COVID. Both her sisters, their husbands, and their children (my wife’s cousins) all currently have COVID. Seriously. That’s 17 people. Every day she speaks to her sisters or a family member with it, and the conversation always turns to someone they know who has died. It’s always So and So has COVID. Oh, no! Yeah, but they’re getting better now. But their husband/wife/aunt/child/cleaning lady/friend just died because of it. When not talking to someone in the family with COVID about their symptoms or someone else who has died of COVID, my mother-in-law spends her time watching WeChat Channel videos about people talking about their COVID symptoms or about other people who have died of COVID. And she cooks.
In the beginning of December, we went online for a week. It was expected. Cases were going up all around us in Dalian. We thought we’d be online into the holiday break, but it lasted only a week. We didn’t know what to think. There were dozens of cases, and yet we were not shut down. This had never happened before. What’s going on?
It was the next week that China did a 180 with their policies. It didn’t matter. COVID was racing through the school community. Staff and students tested positive, called off work, stopped showing up at school. Some students without symptoms or a positive result stayed home out of fear and asked for online classes. Staff that remained ran hybrid classes, but soon so few staff were left in the school that we officially switched to online, and everyone was expected to teach from home if they were able. Xiao Ming and I were in a batch of tests with abnormal results, but we tested the next day individually and were negative. For about a week and a half, COVID ripped through the ranks, infecting just about everyone around us. I think I’ve counted two teachers who have not had it, yet. Out of more than sixty. Despite zero lockdowns, Dalian is slow to go back to what it was even before the sudden lift of the government policies. Even I’ve limited my movements as much as possible. I’m unsure about when I can go back to the climbing gym without feeling like every hold I touch is covered in COVID, but at least my school has a weight room. People are afraid. With scenes on social media showing overflowing lines and packed parking lots at crematoriums, how can people not be? I don’t want to catch COVID, but more than anything, I don’t want to give it to my wife or son, and definitely not my seventy-year-old mother-in-law.
At times it feels like we’re living through the sequel of that apocalypse movie we started three years ago. Sickness and Death seemingly everywhere, no reliable means of gathering information or viable options for getting back to “normal.” My mother-in-law and others around me scared to the point of paralysis, stuck in a frenetic loop of cooking, cleaning, and doom-scrolling just to cope with the extreme fear they can’t overcome.
And then there are moments when the exact opposite seems to be happening. The World Cup just ended, countries are still waging war, advertisements about shopping discounts popping up, those not sick are travelling, and even China – Zero-COVID-is-scientific-and-we-won’t-change-China – has thrown in the towel and thrown open the gates and said “Fuck it” to pretty much all COVID response measures.
I feel more trapped and uncertain than in the first days when I was barricaded in by apartment complex. How long can this last?
Being with my family, finishing one task at a time for work or my masters, getting coffee, and reading a good book are the things keeping me sane.
No pandemic lasts longer than three years – 大疫不过三年 – the Chinese expression goes. When the media all around us is so convoluted, sabotaged, biased, or fearmongering for views trumps spreading truth, maybe ancient wisdom from those who lived through similar events is all we can count on.