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This week, I finished my two weeks of quarantine since returning to the U.S. Now the entire country is on quarantine for another two. We are looking at a virus that spreads more rapidly than most diseases we have seen. We are an ocean away from its origin, and yet it still has hit Wilson County. Why?
My last days in Korea were quite sad. On Feb. 19, the church I was attending stopped all in-person Bible studies and church services due to the “31st case” in South Korea (a woman who eventually caused the massive spread throughout the religious communities in a southern area of South Korea called Daegu). Around the same time, all universities in South Korea pushed the start of school back from March 2 to March 16 to give all foreign students a chance to quarantine prior to the start of the semester.
A week later, Pennsylvania State University canceled all programs in South Korea as well as the Council of International Education Exchange. By this time, everyone I was seeing on the street had been wearing masks for about five weeks straight — not for pollution, but to protect their health from the coronavirus. I had gotten used to policy changes overnight that attempted to make it safer in the country.
My flight back to the U.S. was anything but comfortable. Most people, including myself, wore masks the entire time. Prior to boarding, American Airlines marked all boarding passes of people who had ever been to China.
Our flight landed in Dallas, Texas, on March 3 at 4 p.m. central time. After getting off the plane, I entered the bathroom. My assumption was that we were separated from the general population due to the high number of cases in Korea and the lack of questioning about travel. I entered immigration unchecked. The lines were packed and there seemed to be no change in screening. In the lines, you could tell who had come from Korea and who had not based on who had a mask on. The immigration officer told me to take my mask off to verify my passport and then asked if I had been to China in the last 14 days prior to my travel to the United States. This is insufficient questioning considering the rising spread of the virus in Korea at the time.
From what I could tell, no one’s temperature was taken and I was never asked if I had a cough or any recent illness. I wore my mask all the way back to North Carolina to protect myself and others from potential contamination from the virus. I had to self-report to the Wilson County Health Department of my recent return from South Korea. The agency acted promptly and told me to quarantine and gave me a number to call if I get symptoms.
My last days in Korea, I witnessed trivial things. Obvious travels from Europe and the U.S. walking around without masks and traveling in large groups. They probably just arrived and had not received any real guidance from their program. Maybe they wanted to absorb everything they could before being forced to return to the U.S., but they were acting recklessly. This virus is spreading due to complacency and lack of caution.