LUBBOCK, TX — It’s been just over one month since I repatriated back to the United States, as the Fulbright program shuttered all 2020 grants and asked us to return to our homes. Concerns over COVID-19’s spread in the US lead to emergency declarations, travel bans, and various other concerns that made remaining overseas untenable.
Returning to the US wasn’t necessarily a health decision, as many around the world have pointed out the remarkably robust response by the Taiwanese government to keep the nation healthy. As recently as today, the entire nation of Taiwan has reported only 425 infections, and only 6 deaths from these infections. For a nation of nearly 24 million people, this represents a known infection rate that is … pretty low: 1 in 10,000 people in Taiwan have or had contracted the virus. These numbers are remarkable when you consider the cultural and geographic proximity of Taiwan to China.
Main actions in Taiwan were to encourage both social distancing and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) as early as the end of January. Travel restrictions were introduced in early February in a tiered format — indeed, my own planned travel to Macau was prohibited, and trips to Japan and Singapore were strongly discouraged and came with a mandatory 14-day quarantine on return to Taiwan. Most economic sectors were not drastically affected, although very large events were discouraged. An interesting story? The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is currently the only professional baseball league currently playing. It’s a fascinating story, maybe for another time. =)
Shifting back home, it’s no secret that the US has struggled quite a bit to contain COVID-19. Recognizing that we’re a nation of nearly 400 million people, we currently account for about one-third of the world’s known COVID-19 infections (about 825,000 of an estimated 2.5 million infections) — About 3 in 1000 Americans were or are known carriers of the virus.
What’s most telling? My own backyard. As of this writing, Lubbock County now has more COVID-19 infections (430) and deaths (26) than the nation of Taiwan — nearly 25% of these in nursing homes … and this curve is still trending upwards.
I don’t pretend to have any answers, and I have so many questions. Texas has made international headlines lately as one of the few US states planning to pare back drastic and bold actions that have both saved lives and decimated our local, regional, and national economy — an infamous quote from our Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick sums up this tension well, in that “there are more important things than living.”
My colleagues from Taiwan check on me daily, and my report is usually the same: at home, on the patio, working and sipping coffee. Shopping relentlessly, at a distance, to pump as much money as I can into Lubbock.
But staying home.
I don’t know if I was one of the 100,000 Taiwanese who carried, or one of the 3 in 1,000 Americans who carried.
If I were playing poker right now, I’d not like this shift in the odds. And when you’re playing with lives instead of chips, it just doesn’t seem like the best bet to go all in.