Living with the Corona Boomerang

It seemed like we were safe from the virus, but it returned, and we’d like to send something back.

By Dulce Zamora

Singapore has received international acclaim for its initial management of the COVID-19 crisis, but the Southeast Asian nation is finding it hard to maintain its advantage over the coronavirus. Today, the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a month-long lockdown that he hopes will provide a “circuit breaker” for the country’s sudden surge of cases.

Singapore had its first COVID-19 case on January 23. Right away, the government started implementing aggressive measures to stem the outbreak: Officials made testing widely available, and immediately hospitalized the infected (whether or not they showed symptoms). They tracked down their close contacts and quarantined them as well. The strategy worked. On the 1st of March, the island only had 106 cases with about 70% recoveries, and zero deaths.

One month later, the number of infected in Singapore increased almost ten-fold. As of this writing (April 3), the city-state had 1,049 cases with 25% of cases recovered, and five deaths. At first, imported cases accounted for most of the spike. Singaporeans, permanent residents, and pass holders returned home, many of them with the virus. This included business travelers, study abroad students, and families on spring holidays. There were some tourists who had the virus as well. Because of the high volume of infections that stemmed from overseas (a big chunk of the infected came from the U.K. and the U.S.), Singapore closed its borders on the 27th of March to all but citizens, residents, and long-term pass holders. Those who provided essential services (such as transport or health care) were exempt.

Spring Fever

Local schools had a full week off as usual in March. Many families ventured overseas, and to local malls, eateries, parks, and amusement centers. The local places generally had reduced traffic at the beginning of the outbreak, but the school holidays changed some of that. As the weeks progressed, many Singaporeans felt safer and branched out more. There was a general feeling that the government was doing a good job of keeping the coronavirus at bay, and life still seemed relatively normal around town, especially compared to other nations that were experiencing surges of hospitalizations and lockdowns.

Local schools resumed. But, with the growing caseload of infections, social distancing measures were introduced, such as spaced seating (one meter apart) in classrooms, and a 4-day school week, plus one day of home-based learning. Extracurricular activities were canceled. Some of the international schools recognized the unique travel patterns of their population, and decided to move their Spring breaks forward, or to try out their e-learning platforms with students at home.

My family and I are American expats in Singapore. My two daughters, Sienna and Jasmine, attend an international school, and they had online learning this week. For the most part, my girls enjoyed being at home. They got to sleep in an extra hour, and had the luxury of hour-long lunches with the whole family. At school, they usually had 35-minute lunches.

“We love being at home,” they both said. Although they missed hanging out with their friends in person, they were able to see them in class Zoom calls, and chatted with them on Google Hangouts. I wasn’t thrilled with the increased screen time, especially for Sienna who had to log into her multiple classes in middle school. However, it felt right to have everyone home, because new clusters within the local community began to emerge.

The clusters included a nursing home, work dormitories, a bridal salon, a department store, a bar, a shipyard, a preschool (with the adult staff infected), and an international school (also the adult staff infected). As the clusters multiplied, officials stepped up social distancing measures. The government told people to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people. Officials shut down bars, nightclubs, cinemas, and karaoke outlets. Religious services were suspended. Eateries had to block off seats to space out patrons. Grocery stores, retail shops, and malls were required to limit the amount of customers they had inside. People in line were required to stand one meter apart with colored tape on the ground to remind people to keep their distance. Libraries and recreational centers closed.

Circuit Breaker

The increased efforts were not enough to stem the tide of coronavirus transmissions. Today, Prime Minister Lee announced more stringent measures:

  • Starting Tuesday, April 7, all workplaces will close, except for essential services such as health care, food production, cleaning, and trade.
  • Starting Wednesday, April 8, all schools will move to full-time home-based learning.
  • Other restrictions include: (1) Staying home as much as possible,(2) Socializing only within the household, and (3) Limiting outings to essential activities such as picking up food, visiting health care professionals, or going to the bank.

The measures are in effect until May 4. In its ten-week battle with coronavirus, this is the first time that almost every part of normal life has been upended in Singapore.

Prepared for Lockdown

Wow, I thought. This is a lockdown, but it doesn’t feel too different.

My family and I had already started self-isolating two weeks ago in Singapore, even before the government introduced official social distancing measures. Our loved ones in the San Francisco Bay Area started sheltering in place on March 17. The state of California followed with a lockdown on March 19. Our loved ones in New York went into lockdown on March 20.

With most of our stateside family and friends under lockdown, and with dire predictions about global sickness, death, and economic devastation, it felt like we needed to stay home. Perhaps we were grieving. Perhaps we had mentally prepared ourselves for this crisis mode, since we were seeing Singapore’s numbers go up, too.

It didn’t help that shortly after the lockdowns in our American hometowns, my daughter Jasmine had a sore throat, dry cough, congestion, aches, fatigue, tummy ache, and a slight uptick in body temperature. Yet, she did not technically have a fever. Here in Singapore, schools started requiring twice-daily temperature checks weeks ago. I began to notice my children’s body heat patterns. In the evenings, Jasmine’s temperature was usually between 36 to 36.5 C (96.8 to 97.7 F). When she had the cough, her temperature went up to 37.2 (almost 99 F) for a few nights.

Did Jasmine have the coronavirus? There was no way to tell unless we went to the clinic for testing. Yet, since she did technically not have a fever, I just moved her mattress to my room so I could keep an eye on her. Plus, I thought it would spare Sienna from all the coughing (since they shared a room). I also knew it was nearly impossible for any of us to avoid contact with Jasmine. Nonetheless, I separated her plate, glass and cutlery, and washed it with a different sponge.

To boost the whole family’s immune system, I gave everyone extra probiotics, and elderberry syrup with added zinc and vitamin C. I made lots of tea with fresh ginger, lemongrass, or orange juice. I also stirred in some high-grade manuka honey. We also drank lots of homemade soups during the week: tomato soup, corn soup, chicken soup, and butternut squash soup.

During the day and night, I put on healing music via YouTube or iTunes. Healing music (432 Hz) has a certain frequency that’s supposed to ease anxiety, and bring down heart rate and blood pressure. I had no idea if it would help, but the girls liked it, and I figure it wouldn’t hurt. I felt the same way about the essential oils I diffused in our bedrooms at nights. I used an oil blend of clove, eucalyptus, lemon, cinnamon, and rosemary. The blend is supposed to boost immunity. I don’t know if it’s true, but the girls loved the scent, so, if anything, it eased some stress.

We spent our Spring Break nursing Jasmine back to health. (More on our Homecation Spring Break in the next blog post). I’m happy to report that Jasmine is much better now. Her cough and aches are gone, and her temperature is back to normal. At this moment, she is in her room with Sienna, and they are chatting and giggling instead of sleeping.

Locked in, But Loaded with Lots of Hope and Love

You will not hear complaints about lockdown from me. My husband, Noel, who usually travels once or twice per month, has been home since early February. I think this will be the longest time in years he has been home. We are all under one roof and safe together. Our family and friends in the States are okay, too, even though some of them had or have the coronavirus.

Even though it has been a scary and unpredictable time, I feel grounded and humbled. It has been ten weeks of virus fears boomeranging from East to West, then West to East again. And we’re still okay. We’ve been able to survive the ricochet. We are resilient, and so are the people in our home countries — the U.S. and Singapore. Already, in both countries, I’ve seen innovations, collaborations, and people filled with hope and positivity.

Who knows what will happen from here? I can only pray and hope for the best. We can only pray and hope for the best. We cannot always control what will happen in this pandemic, but we can certainly control our reactions to it. Today, I choose to be grateful for this extended time with my family, and am hopeful that it will leave us emotionally stronger, better connected with ourselves and others, and armed with faith, hope, and love. Boomerang that, Coronavirus!

© 2020 Windswept Wildflower

April 4, 2020

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