Where Would I Rather Be During Covid-19? Thailand or America?
It’s strange to be an American living abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. My daily life in Thailand is rather “normal” yet infused with the angst of more outbreaks on the horizon. We live with constant anxiety about where we are going, how much we allow our children to be exposed to others and whether we should have been a few more feet away from the delivery driver when we accepted that package. I hear things are terrible in the U.S. and I worry about friends and family at home who live a chaotic, pandemic-centric life.
Where would I rather be during Covid-19? It is a question I think about every day as I worry about the health of my family, while I realize there is only so much I can do to protect them and myself. Like most people in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we wear masks, socially distance, wash our hands often, avoid crowded places and try diligently to follow the government guidelines. But, like everyone else, I wonder: Is it enough? Could I be doing more?
My friends in America have heard the news, and generally accepted opinion, that Thailand has done a great job in managing the pandemic. The World Health Organization, in July, praised “Thailand’s successful response” to Covid-19. And yes, there is a general sense that Thailand has done an excellent job with the pandemic.
But as we in Thailand experience an increasing number of outbreaks and infections, the WHO’s conclusions and glowing media reports on the Thai response offer limited reassurance.
While the WHO spoke with 96 government departments and partner organizations as part of its assessment, they didn’t talk to me or any of my friends. Not to suggest we should have been interviewed, but we have seen and experienced a few too many “warning signs” that make us very nervous. For example:
*** While my infant daughter was in the hospital for 5 days with a viral infection, TWICE nurses entered her room without wearing masks.
*** In one of the hospitals charged with screening and handling Covid-19 patients in our province, the lobby looked like one of the busiest days at New York’s Grand Central Station. Approximately 500 people — some with masks, many without — were jam- packed together waiting in line. Interspersed in the crowd there were sick people lying on stretchers.
*** Three days before New Year’s, it was reported that bars and clubs in the trendy Nimmanhemen section of Chiang Mai were jammed packed “as if Covid never happened.”
*** One doctor told us the costs of a Covid-19 test are so prohibitive that the average Thai citizen will be severely disinclined to be proactive and check whether he/she is infected. (Ironically, President Trump did say “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, actually.”) (1)
All anecdotal for sure. But when nurses don’t wear masks and when a designated Covid-19 hospital is so crowded with mask-less people that it’s almost impossible to walk through, it’s scary. When people party as if the pandemic doesn’t exist and proactive individual testing is virtually non-existent, it does nothing to ease our anxiety.
Are things any better in America? I see:
*** A Federal government that has 1) denigrated its own scientists and generated serious doubt about how to protect one’s self and others; 2) abdicated a leadership role by leaving it to each of the 50 states to figure it out; 3) promoted wild conspiracy theories related to almost everything vital to know about Covid-19.
*** A president who 1) suggested injection of disinfectant into the body might kill the virus (failing to mention it might kill you!); 2) deliberately “downplayed” (i.e., lied) the severity of the crisis) after assuring people Covid-19 would magically disappear; 3) told American citizens Covid-19 was some type of “hoax.”
*** Americans who 1) argue it is their right — constitutional or otherwise — to not wear a mask so as to protect themselves and others, with more than a few walking through stores, mask-less, deliberately (!) coughing on people, in some type of twisted, anti-mask protest; 2) gather in huge groups — with no social distancing — seemingly spitting into the wind of Covid-19.
*** The intended target of 20 million vaccines by the end of 2019 turned out to be only 4.5 million doses given by December 31, 2020.
Maybe, as the saying goes, “There is no arguing with numbers.”
— Thailand has a per capita infection rate of 1% with 8439 actual infections and 65 deaths. (2)
— The U.S. has a per capita infection rate of 6% with 21,113,528 actual infections and 360,078 deaths. (2)
— In real numbers, the United States ranks number 1 with the most Covid-19 cases and deaths in the world. (3)
— Thailand ranks 134th in the world. (3)
This assumes we believe the numbers reported. A big assumption, I would argue.
I am left with my competing thoughts and questions — as a consumer of healthcare — of how healthcare systems should work and how competent and transparent countries can be, should be, and are, when it comes to Covid-19.
All I can do is worry for my adopted home of Thailand and worry for my country, the United States.
And of course, while I worry, I will be wearing a mask.