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14 Days of Self-Isolation in Taiwan

This article was originally published on Medium by Maddy Chen (link). To read more articles on tech and social impact, follow Maddy on Medium.

The author Maddy Chen grew up in the United States and Taiwan. She is a fourth year Data Science and Economics student at UC Berkeley. In this article, she recounts her travel to Taiwan and shares her 14 days of self-isolation experience.

To preface, this is only my experience. I want to acknowledge the privilege that I have for being able to book an international flight the moment my parents and I decided that it would be safer for me to quarantine in Taiwan rather than the US.

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

“When you come home, I’m not going to touch or hug you. It’s not because mom doesn’t love you but it’s because you could be infectious.” — my mom

This is what I get for flying home, halfway across the world, in the middle of the semester. I was supposed to come home in December, not March.

My family lives in Taiwan. I go to college (at UC Berkeley to be specific) in the United States. Berkeley was going remote for the rest of the semester, so I decided to fly home to Taiwan.

By mid-March, the US was considered by the Taiwanese Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a “dangerous” country of coronavirus. Thus, once in Taiwan, I was subject to 14 days of self-isolation. This is my story.

Part 1: The Plane Ride

Photo by Maddy: Page 2 of my dad’s coronavirus airport guide

Before flying, my dad sent me a personalized, self-made PDF guide that detailed all things I should/shouldn’t do.

After leaving my apartment, I’ve been wearing a mask and spraying everything with rubbing alcohol. At the time, this seemed extreme, but others were wearing multiple masks, gloves, goggles, hairnets, and full protective plastic suits. Since the guide instructed that bathroom is the dirtiest place on the plane, I’m proud to announce that I only used the bathroom once on my 14 hour flight!

Part 2: At the Taiwan Airport

Photo by Maddy: My view while waiting for the Taiwan CDC

After landing, I stumbled towards customs only to find a line with hundred (or thousands) of people. If you had symptoms, you were highly encouraged to self-report them so you could be brought to a different area for testing. While waiting, I was given two sheets of paper:

  1. To report my personal information and every country/state I’ve visited in the past 14 days

  2. To record my temperature every morning and night while in isolation

THREE HOURS LATER(!!), I’d made it to the front of the line where someone from the Taiwan CDC manually recorded all of my information (from the first paper) into their system. They even called the cell phone number I’d listed to make sure it was real. (The CDC had an online reporting system but, at the time, it wasn’t working for ~97% of travelers.)

Eventually, I met a driver who’d take me home because it was safer for my family to minimize contact with anything airport-related. (Thank you!)

Part 3: 14 Days at Home

As promised, my mom greeted me outside our apartment with a wave and a big bottle of 75% rubbing alcohol to spray down everything I’d brought, including myself. Once inside, I was completely contained in my room because there’s a bathroom inside. I couldn’t wait until those 14 days were over.

Photo by Maddy: Two of my meals served in a tray

My life was simple: eat, eat, eat, shower, sleep, repeat.

  • Meals — my family would knock indicating that my food was ready to be collected. I would open the door, pick up my tray, eat my food, wash the dishes in my room, spray everything with alcohol and leave it outside for it to be rewashed in the dishwasher.

  • Video chatting friends, watching recorded Zoom lectures, watching Netflix and YouTube were all part of daily routine.

  • 5:30PM — my daily YouTube “fitness class”.

  • 10PM — spray my hands and the trash bag with alcohol and drop it outside my door.

  • If I needed anything, I’d call my family, hang up, and then stand next to the closed door to talk.

I felt useless and dependent. I felt completely on my own, except my family was actually just a wall away.

Photo by Maddy

The Taiwan CDC texted me everyday.

Text Translation: The CDC cares about you, we want to know about your physical condition. Please respond 1 if everything is normal; 2 if you have a fever, runny nose, cough, irregular breathing, or soreness; 3 if you have other symptoms.

Response Translation: Thank you for your cooperation. If you have any questions please dial 1922. The CDC cares about you.

If I didn’t text back in less than ~3 hours, someone would call me to ask again about my condition.

Lastly, anything that came into my room stayed there (until I was liberated) — with the exception of alcohol-sprayed trash and alcohol-sprayed dishes. Yes, the alcohol-spraying was definitely a trend.

Concluding Thoughts

Yes, Taiwan is a small country. However, the proximity of Taiwan to China increases its probability of getting infections. Yet, only 0.00185% of Taiwanese citizens have gotten coronavirus (25030% less than the US.)* Taiwan is currently one of the safest countries to live in during this global pandemic.

I believe it’s this due diligence and the proactive actions Taiwan has enforced to help contain the virus and keep Taiwanese citizens safe and healthy.


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