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Going to college has always been exciting, especially for newcomers. However, this year a lot of things are different. As part of the high school class of 2020, there are many things my classmates and I missed out on. We didn’t go on stage to get our high school diplomas, nor were we able to attend university in person and participate in all kinds of different incoming students’ events. Everything went online, and that included school and social life. 

As an international student, I have always looked forward to heading to Hawai'i for college. I’ve always thought of Hawai'i as a paradise, a dream place where I want to study. I’ve looked forward to growing, to making new friends and to understand what it feels like to be independent. However, as coronavirus began getting more severe in Hawai'i, my parents decided I should stay in Taiwan, my home country, for at least the first semester. Even though this was unfortunate, I knew it was for the best. Classes began soon after, and it was while having classes online that I started looking around to compare Taiwan and Hawai'i’s pandemic management and understanding how they are dealing with it differently. 

How Taiwan is managing COVID-19

Despite being so close to China, where the virus originated, Taiwan has been one of the few countries doing well in this pandemic and has managed to keep COVID cases low and steady. There are approximately 23 million people in Taiwan, and as of October there are only 544 cases, 495 recovered and 7 deaths

In Taiwan, masks were already required everywhere since February, right after the pandemic started. At the beginning of the spread, schools completely shut down, large gatherings were prohibited and everywhere required social distancing. Now, people still have to stay at least 1 meter apart outdoors and 1.5 meters apart indoors. Even though this may sound impossible, there are lines stuck on the ground for social distancing that people follow when lining up. Hand sanitizer and temperature checks are also provided everywhere. Public venues do not allow people to book meeting spaces. 

Everything changed in a short time, and just like many others, it was the first time I experienced this. I was surprised by how everyone followed the rules; people were wearing masks everywhere, until they were even out of stock. Still, the government tried to find ways to make sure everyone had one and the rules kept improving. Convenience stores carried masks early on and a weekly buying limit was imposed.

Around May, the number of cases noticeably decreased to where between May 8 and June 8, there were only three cases. We were allowed to go back to school and everyday life started settling back to normal, to the point where restaurants opened and roads were full with people. My class was even granted a graduation, even though no audience was allowed to attend in person. Now, even concerts are allowed where more than ten thousands people gather together, as long as they’re all wearing masks.

SARS and Covid

I still remember my dad used to tell me about how Taiwan had experienced the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome back in 2003, and how he firmly believed that Taiwan knew what to do this time because of this experience. Seventeen years ago, everyone was panicking because of SARS. People were scared to interact with each other, and even hospitals were closed down. However, 17 years later, Taiwan slowly improved and learned from SARS. People now understand how important it is to follow the rules and how seriously something like SARS or COVID-19 can affect a population.  

COVID-19 in Taiwan and in the United States

Having a lot of friends who came back from the U.S. due to COVID, I’ve come across many opinions about the situation. After listening to them, I have observed that instead of being disciplined and following the general regulations, many people from the U.S. have not taken it seriously.  Even though wearing masks might not seem like it will do much to help stop the spread of the disease, having the majority of the population do so became a major factor that contributed to a safe environment in Taiwan.  Even though similar measures were implemented by other countries, including the United States, Taiwan had them enforced earlier on, and its citizens were obedient in following the rules. Currently, Taiwan has almost zero cases per day, and masks are still required on public transportation and in some stores. In comparison, some of my friends in the United States still complain about how people do not take the coronavirus seriously, even now. They told me they were scared to wear masks because some people might think they have the virus if they have them on. But without masks, they are afraid to go out too. 

Based on my interview with my friend Ann Yao, who returned to Taiwan due to the pandemic, she explained how all of her friends did not wear masks. When the U.S. first announced the lockdown within the country, people did not obey the rules. Yao later stated, “With such dangerous and harmful disease spreading, my friends still managed to go party all day long! Completely ignored how serious COVID is!” There are many reasons that led to millions of COVID cases in the U.S., but Yao said, “The ignorant behaviors of these teens could definitely be one of the main causes for how poor America is doing.” 

National Geographic conducted a poll in the United States in order to find out whether people wear a mask when they leave their house. In July 2020, only 60% of the adults wore masks when they left their house.This was surprising for me, because in Taiwan masks were required until the cases started decreasing. In October 2020, the percentage of adults who always wore masks went up by 14% compared to July 2020. This suggests that the number of people wearing masks did go up. This is an improvement and a demonstration of how everyone wants COVID-19 to come to an end soon. 

The whole world has been turned upside down and every country has changed a lot due to this pandemic. Even though we all hope the coronavirus can end and everyone can have their normal life back, everyone must work together to achieve this. Everyone must understand how serious coronavirus is, how it has been affecting our lives and how we can keep it from going on any longer.