On Jan. 28, I received an email that Peace Corps staff had decided to activate our Emergency Action Plan and evacuate all volunteers from their posts throughout China to Bangkok, Thailand. The community I had been living in for the past year and a half, a city named, Tongren, was gripped with fear. The streets were empty, despite being in the middle of lunar new year festivities. Those you did encounter, usually while purchasing food from the nearby markets, most certainly had a medical mask covering their face. Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei, is not far from Guizhou province, my home at the time. Would Covid-19 sweep through our town next?
I moved to Coronado when I was young and graduated from Coronado High School in 2013. After completing my undergraduate degree in 2017, I joined the Peace Corps in China. To live through the same, slow buildup of the same pandemic twice in the past two months is quite surreal. To see these same events unfold in both Tongren, Guizhou and Coronado, California has made me realize that epidemics are the enemy of all mankind. I learned through my Peace Corps experience in China that during times of crisis it is important for all the citizens of a community to work together. The phrase “collective action” might recall socialist totalitarian states, but it turns out that collective action is an extremely useful tool for defeating a viral epidemic.
It is up to every citizen of this county to act responsibly, not just for themselves, but to keep the entire community safe. Proper hygiene, especially hand washing, must be practiced by everyone. Large events should be cancelled. Those showing any symptoms should avoid interpersonal contact. Even those that are younger, who might be at lower risk, should remember that they may unintentionally spread the virus to more vulnerable members of the community. If everybody acts responsibly our lives will quickly resume to normal. However, if people ignore the advice of healthcare workers and the CDC, this situation could spiral out of control.
It has been about six weeks since I was given my evacuation orders. Members of the technical college I worked for in Tongren, Guizhou are finally going back to work in their offices. Most of the students are still only taking classes online, but those should end soon. China’s ability to mobilize their entire population against the Covid-19 virus was effective in reducing the spread and severity of the outbreak. It is now our turn in Coronado, California to act together. It might take about two months for things to return to normal, but if we remain vigilant we can ensure that every member of our community stays safe.