Perhaps the most pressing question of the moment is whether, and how, we can “reopen” America. Not that it’s closed, really, for much of the country remains at work, exposing them to whatever the rest of us fear as we cower in our homes. We call them “heroes” to make us feel better about free-riding off their willingness to be infected so we won’t, ignoring that they’re not necessarily doing it for us as much as doing it to keep their jobs or feed their kids.
But much of the mantra about “testing, testing, testing,” fails to connect up the nuts and bolts to what it will actually accomplish. We have no treatment, cure or vaccine at this point, which means the most it will tell us is who has it (if diagnostic tests) or had it (if antibody tests), and who was within their reach and might get it. Fair enough, but then what?
The next level of response tends to go one of two ways. The first is the “be like Sweden” path of grain herd immunity and let the weak die. The second is “be like South Korea,” which has the twin benefits of not relying on the as yet known unknown of herd immunity and, well, not so much dying. But is it possible? Michael Kim, an American in South Korea, laid it out.
As an American currently in South Korea, it’s very interesting to me the stark contrast of how different the two countries’ response to coronavirus is. I don’t think most Americans fully understand the lengths that South Korea has undergone, so I’ll try my best to explain.
1) Upon arrival, they take your temperature at the airport and ask if you’ve experienced any symptoms. If you have, they move you to a separate area and give you a coronavirus test. If you haven’t, they take you to another area and interview you. They also install ankle bracelets.
2) You are required to install an app on your phone and enable location tracking all the time. You are required to self-report symptoms in the app twice a day. If you don’t have symptoms, you need to report that too. This goes on for a period of 14 days.
If you break quarantine, you are fined $10,000 USD and face jail time. Also, they check your location on your phone frequently. My wife had her location checked 37 times in a 3 day span. And they’ve caught enterprising folks who leave their phone at home and go out.
You are assigned to a case worker who is responsible for making sure you are following all the orders. They will call you and text you to make sure you are OK. They also will send you care packages that contains a lot of food, gloves and masks, sanitary pads for women, etc.
3) If there’s a new coronavirus case in your general area (same city or district), you get a Public Safety Alert on your phone that tell you about the person (age, male/female, city) and provides updates as they receive them.
I forgot to mention that Korea also has mobilized their army to provide more operations and logistics support at the airport.
We were required to get a COVID-19 test within 3 days of arriving, which is the only activity that’s allowed to break quarantine. You have to do this in coordination with the case worker. As a family of 4, we were done testing in about 10 minutes. Test results came in 7 hours.
In response to recent public safety alerts, my family changed our plans for the next several weeks to avoid certain areas. Places with lots of traffic like Korea’s version of Walmart have temperature monitors installed so you can see everyone’s temperature.
There’s absolutely no protests or demonstrations about the anti-freedom measures or invasion of privacy. I’m not an expert in Korean politics but it seems like everyone accepts these measures as required to address this pandemic.
While we still take precautions like wearing masks in public, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, etc., I feel pretty confident that the government knows everyone who has coronavirus and is tracking things very closely, which means I don’t have to worry as much.
And like some of the articles have mentioned, if you’ve been to a place where someone who has coronavirus has also visited, someone will contact you to get tested and undergo self-isolation for another 14-day period.
Will Americans acquiesce to this? Is it feasible, scalable (we’re a bit bigger and more diverse than South Korea), legal (constitutional rights implicated?) and practical? Will people who test negative be willing to accept forced quarantine for being in the proximity of some random person who tested positive for 14 days? Will they be willing to do so a second or third time? Who feeds their kids when this happens? Who does their job, runs their business, appears in court to defend their clients?
The unduly passionate seem split on the issue. There’s the unicorn take:
Why wouldn’t it be voluntary? The morally right thing to do is isolate until you’re clear after 14 days.
And then there’s the deplorable take.
Plenty of Americans who have tested positive wouldn’t do a quarantine willingly because our country churns out selfish assholes like nobody else.
On the flip side, what would happen if we adopted the South Korea $10,000 fine and a short stay in the hoosegow as an incentive for morality? Would it be acceptable to impose it on the marginalized as well as the privileged?
Once people return to the streets, and run across 100 people per day, each of whom run across 100 people per day, and so on, until a person shows symptoms, since the asymptomatic won’t attract attention, will it not have as much potential to spiral out of control as before? It’s not happening now because we’re in lockdown, masked and distanced. Can we test 330,000 people a day, week or month? Even if we can, is that the answer or does it just raise the next level of questions?