Quarantine complete: How Taiwan quickly contained the coronavirus
In light of Governor Jay Inslee ordering a stay-at-home for our state, I checked in with someone who has already been through it. Attorney, author, and actor Juanita Ingram is an American expat living in Taipei, Taiwan, with her husband and two kids.
“Where you guys are right now, we were there about a month ago,” Ingram said. “So I’ve been there, done that, and just want to keep people encouraged.”
Despite its close proximity to China, Taiwan has kept its coronavirus case number very low. They’ve only had two deaths and 216 confirmed cases, and say most of the people were infected while traveling abroad.
A WIRED article speculates Taiwan’s success is the result of many things, including transparency — the government kept citizens informed early on — and they implemented everything they learned from SARS and swine flu outbreaks in 2002 and 2009. Not to mention, Taiwan’s vice president is a trained epidemiologist.
“Around January 24th, 25th, they reacted and responded quite quickly,” Ingram said. “It was aggressive and it was early. The kids [left school] on January 25th and they didn’t go back until February 25th. [We were told] not to go to public places, don’t have any public gatherings, social distancing. Sort of the same experiences you guys are going through. It was aggressive; it was the right thing to do. There is light on the other side but nothing goes back immediately to being ‘normal.'”
Residents were strongly encouraged not to travel abroad and anyone who flies into Taiwan must be quarantined for two weeks. Ingram said each resident was given two masks every seven days for at least two weeks, to ensure everyone had one so they wouldn’t go out to overbuy and hoard (*cough* Americans and toilet paper *cough cough*).
“The first time I wore a mask and actually left my apartment and walked outside, I did have a panic attack because I’m asthmatic. It made me feel like I couldn’t breathe,” Ingram said. “Americans, we don’t wear masks on a regular basis. That’s sort of an Asian cultural thing that doesn’t make them feel so stigmatized. It was overwhelming for me. Even now, in order to go to the grocery store, I have to wear a mask. I have to get a temperature check. To go into the condo building I live in, temperature checks. My husband forgot his mask last week and the grocery store turned him away and said, ‘Go get your mask.’ It’s part of our norm now.”
There’s conflicting information about whether or not masks are effective. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee told Live Science that the face masks you see people wearing on the street won’t fully contain or keep out the virus. Only an N95 respirator mask can do that, but the CDC does not recommend them for public use.
As for being quarantined for weeks on end, Americans might have a particularly tough time following the rules.
“As an American, we think individually. We have individual rights, we think about ourselves. What is it that I want to do? All we focus on is what’s being taken away, no matter the reason,” Ingram said. “I think it’s important for us, and what I did to get through this time, to focus on, not necessarily what I couldn’t do, but what remains. The fact that I had two kids that are healthy, that I have a home. The things that you take for granted every day that are so important right now. We have to think about the collective. We are very focused on self. I was the same way, but I had to focus on what is the best thing for the community because what I do and the choices I make, whether I choose to comply, affects everybody.”
Ingram wanted to remind people this won’t last forever.
“It does get better. Last Saturday, we went to celebrate my son’s birthday. People were in restaurants. The wait staff still had on masks, but the people didn’t. So you could see small glimpses of hope, a return to normality. Whatever our new normal is going to be for the next couple of months.”
To put Taiwan’s success into perspective, the country saw its first case of coronavirus within ten days of Italy’s first diagnosis. Taiwan has seen two deaths, while Italy has lost more than 4,000 people.
Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like William Shatner, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig.