About a year ago, I wrote about how some westerners used South Korea as a country that overreacted to the virus. In truth, I thought the entire virus situation was kind of funny. In the States, I’d been through monkeypox, swine flu and even an Ebola outbreak or two so I didn’t see this particular virus as anything to worry about.
Well, I was wrong. I admit it. Quite a few of my friends around the world became sick and a few died from COVID-19.
In the college town where I lived in South Korea last year, nobody really took coronavirus that seriously because we didn’t get hit hard and didn’t have much of a tourist population. But once our students didn’t show up for the winter semester, well, everything changed.
Our term’s classes started online. Teaching can be tough, but students didn’t seem to care about an elective English class in the first place. They care a lot less when it’s online.
Then I moved. Seoul is the big city in South Korea. About 10 million people live in Seoul and about another 10 million live in the surrounding areas. So, it’s kind of a big deal.
After a few months, my school in Seoul taught in-person classes. Then online again. Then it was back to the classrooms again.
Everybody in Korea wears a mask. Everybody. Even homeless folks. All the time. The police walk down the subway to make sure masks are on correctly.
If I pull my mask down to try and teach the class words like “face,” “mouth” and “tongue” — all of my students point in horror as if I’ll infect the class. I’ve got two negative tests, so far.
These children have their temperature taken at their regular school and then at the school I teach at. They receive hand sanitizer just about every time they touch something. We collect phones before class and they put these most valued possessions into Ziploc baggies.
When I tried to show my students how many people died in the U.S. compared to those who’ve died in South Korea from COVID, they didn’t believe the numbers. At this moment, South Korea has about 1,652 COVID deaths. We are one of the most crowded countries in the world with a population of nearly 52 million people. Plus there are lots of old folks, smokers and asthmatics who live over here.
Even with all of this, the vaccine rollout is slow over here. Mask requirements don’t seem to have an end soon, either. Bars can only stay open until 10 p.m. — which really sucks because you used to be able to drink until you wanted to stop.
How does all of this tie into the United States? Well, I don’t really know. I do know that both countries had cases originate on the same day. I also know one country seemed to do mostly everything right and another country seemed to do just about everything wrong.
Follow Casey on Twitter @mrcaseyfreeman.