3.3 Fall 2021

November 17, Covid Chaos

On Monday the school received notice that one of the fourth graders tested positive for Covid. The health center quickly mobilized and after I finished teaching sixth grade, I suppose because why cancel classes if we are all already here, all 900 students and 100 faculty were tested by 2:30. Then we were all sent home with a warning not to go out and wait for the test results.

Sitting in bed with my laptop trying to put together an online class for the sixth grade classes I didn’t see, I suddenly got a call which I ignored. My phone lit up again and I begrudgingly answered.

It was the health center with a translator to say that I needed a Covid test because I was exposed directly to the student.

Uh yes, I got one today, I told them. They insisted I go again on Saturday but didn’t seem to care that I would be arriving after working at the debate tournament.

Umm okay?

“Don’t leave the house on Saturday after the test,” the translator told me, her voice striking me as very familiar. I think she might be the same translator from the health center way back in January in Seoul when I had to run around during quarantine to get tested.

So don’t leave the house after the test but do go work at the debate tournament in the morning? Alright…

I called Helen to check that this was a necessity and not just xenophobia. Recently, there was a Covid outbreak at a foreign daycare center in Gimhae. As a result, Gimhae City decided that all foreign children at any daycare, not the actual site of the outbreak, must immediately be tested, with or without parents present.

The Korean children aren’t required to be tested. Only foreign children, as if all foreign children in a city of half a million people associate with each other. Local foreign press and teachers were outraged: what message does it send to the other little classmates that the “different” one is dragged away for Covid testing?

It’s not the first time that a local government acted like only foreigners could get and spread Covid— earlier this year Gyeonggido Province forced all foreign workers to get tested due to a breakout at a factory. So teachers, students, and factory workers from every part of the province (total population is 13 million) were forced to get tested or face a fine, though their Korean coworkers were not.

The British Government even recently called out Korea for xenophobic restrictions— Korean nationals who are vaccinated abroad are exempt from quarantine and their vaccination is recognized. Foreign nationals who are vaccinated abroad must submit to quarantine and additionally their vaccination status is not recognized.

Helen was equally confused and called the nurse to clarify.

“Because you were in direct contact with that student last week, you have to get tested again. If you weren’t vaccinated you would have to self quarantine for two weeks.”

Aha. Jack had to do this over the summer before we were vaccinated. One more test is better than house arrest.

I waffled back and forth for dinner after everything was said and done. Should I treat myself? Or should I just throw something together from the cabinets?

I eventually opted for meat, a rare treat, but upon finding my new burger go-to closed for delivery, I took a chance on another new burger place close to my house.

Mushroom burger with a side of chicken wings, paid, order processing.

I didn’t know it then but this would be a mistake that would upend my entire week.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling ill and had to cash out sick leave for the afternoon. The malaise, vertigo, and general nausea had not subsided by Wednesday so I cashed in a full sick day. But as I’ve already used three days worth, a doctor’s note would be required this time.

Very slowly I made my way to the nearest internal medicine clinic which happened to be in the same building as my gym and the cinema. All roads lead to Rome, I guess.

As I wobbled to the newly built center I remembered the last time I had food poisoning, many years ago.

At the time I had a fever of 102. Because I lived alone and it was working hours, I had to drag myself to Publix for applesauce and crackers. At every step I chanted to myself “do not throw up, do not poop your pants.” I was wearing a sweater with wrinkled khaki shorts and flip flops and though that wasn’t the attire of a usual ghost, people looked haunted by me just the same.

The cashier especially squinted at me and I tried to answer his questions without releasing the torrent barely being held in my midsection.

When I got back into my car and glanced in the rear view mirror, I realized that I had broken the blood vessels all around my eyes from vomiting so intensely the previous day. No wonder people looked at me like I was dying.

Luckily, whatever this stupid hamburger induced hell I’m living is only a fraction of that. The doctor at the clinic was incredibly young, at least above his mask, and addressed me in English from the start. No eye rolls or huffs about it.

I noticed on his patient chart there were a few “Luis” and “John” mixed with the Korean names, so he must cater to the American military in town. It was a small relief, though I wonder where these guys are. Apart from the odd pair I saw month ago— a black man with a bandana mask and a white man dressed as a cowboy, tailing him and continuing on his awkward one-sided conversation about all you can eat buffets while the other man was clearly trying to shake him— I only see Korean navy guys around.

At least I’m on to solid food, hurray!

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