Since my last post, the general attitude towards COVID-19 in the United States has shifted from annoyance to fear. Sure, I still see quite a few people on my social media feeds posting memes about the virus and declaring the world is just overreacting, but with the sudden widespread cancellation of flights, schools, and important events, the world seems to finally realize how serious things could become if officials and the public fail to take appropriate precautionary measures.
Now, I don’t think there is any reason to panic and buy up a grocery store’s worth of supplies. This isn’t the end of the world. However, preparedness and precaution go a long way in slowing the spread of the disease. Reducing the infection rate is essential to easing the burden on our healthcare systems, which are not equipped to deal with a sudden surge of sick patients. While I support official decisions to close everything from universities to theme parks, I also realize how disruptive these cancellations are to many people. My students lost their graduation ceremony. Friends back home are shifting to online classes for the rest of the semester or working from home for two weeks. People will miss out on highly anticipated concerts, weddings, and conferences. My long distance boyfriend might not be able to visit me. (His flights aren’t cancelled yet so there’s still hope.) It’s frustrating and disheartening for everyone. But I would rather have a trip cancelled or postponed than see thousands more die.
Family, friends, and coworkers have asked me if I plan to leave Japan and return home in light of the present situation. The answer is no. I signed up to be a part of this community for a year, and I will honor that commitment and continue working alongside my coworkers for as long as I can. It doesn’t feel right to pack up my bags and leave my schools without an ALT so suddenly. My home state is already seeing its first patients test positive for the virus, so I’m no safer there than I am here. It also doesn’t help that if I returned to South Carolina, I would be unemployed and without medical insurance. The odds of me finding a new job in the middle of this crisis seem low. At least in Japan, I have access to inexpensive healthcare until my contract ends in July. I’m just hoping no one in my family contracts this virus because they are at risk for developing serious complications. If that happens…then I may reconsider my decision.
So while things sort themselves out, I’ll be here washing my hands and desk warming until the new term starts in April. Other ALTs, how are you passing the time at school? Do you think you’ll stay in Japan or return to your home country? I’d love to hear from you.