Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series about Sarah Bellmer, a 2010 graduate of Christian Academy School. She is currently a teacher in China.
SHANGHAI – Because of her asthma, and her hoarder tendencies, Sarah Bellmer already had a stockpile of masks that have become mandatory in China since a new coronavirus emerged in the country.
“I’m slightly a hoarder so I have huge boxes of masks that I keep because I have asthma and I can’t breathe; sometimes we have really polluted air, especially in the wintertime,” Bellmer said. “So I have a supply of masks, and I’ve been giving masks to all of my friends.”
Bellmer, a 2010 graduate of Christian Academy Schools in Sidney, has taught at a school in Shanghai for the past five years. Classes at her school were supposed to resume Feb. 17 after a break for Chinese New Year but were put on hold as the nation tries to contain the virus.
“The hype for the virus has been pretty crazy, especially in February,” Bellmer said.
“Depending on who you talk to, they’re either really, really scared or they’re like this is going to blow over, we’re going to be fine.”
Bellmer still ventures outside her apartment, but security precautions have increased throughout Shanghai as a result of the virus. Anyone who isn’t wearing a mask is given one, and everyone has their temperature checked practically everywhere they go.
“Anytime I leave my apartment, I get my temperature checked,” Bellmer said. “And I have to wear a mask if I’m outside at all. And anytime I go into a mall or I’m ordering food from somewhere, anytime I go anywhere where there’s any kind of people, I get my temperature checked. So I get my temperature checked usually 10 to 30 times a day.”
Shanghai, with a population of more than 24 million people, normally is a bustling municipality. But recently the streets have seemed deserted.
“Chinese New Year is like Christmas and Thanksgiving and Fourth of July all rolled into one holiday,” Bellmer said. “It’s huge. And everybody goes to their grandparents’ hometowns, and the city is really empty. So when you add the virus to that, it’s really, really empty.
“It’s really weird.”
Bellmer estimated approximately 60 percent of businesses remain open, but there are few patrons.
“The restaurants and everything are open, but there’s only going to be one other person in there,” she said.
The Christian Academy graduate recently visited the LEGO store, M&M’s store and a couple other places at People’s Square, which is like Shanghai’s version of New York City’s Times Square. However, recently she and her friends have spent most of their time in one of their homes instead of venturing out.
“Now with the virus, we just go to each other’s houses and stay there,” Bellmer said.
“When I come back to my apartment, I have to sign in at the gate and use my phone number. Usually you can’t have any guests come over so they’re really trying to make sure that no one is where they aren’t supposed to be.”
The coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has infected more than 111,000 people worldwide, including more than 80,000 in China, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. In China, more than 3,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s closely related to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.
“My family’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve been there awhile. Just don’t lick any doorknobs, don’t do anything stupid,’” Bellmer said.
Bellmer considered returning to the United States during the Chinese New Year break but didn’t want to be barred from returning to Shanghai. Thus, she stayed in China.
Other teachers at her school haven’t returned from vacations or they left the country in attempts to protect their children from the virus. Wherever they are in the world, they returned to teaching online classes on March 2.
“Everybody is freaking out and like ‘We don’t know how to do this! It’s going to be terrifying!’ And I’m like, ‘Just take your lessons, figure out how to make it hands-on,’” Bellmer said.
Bellmer anticipates her students will be able to complete all of their assignments with the online lessons. She’ll post videos and have voice calls with students as part of the online education.
There are rumors that schools will reopen in April or May, but Bellmer is unsure of what to believe. In the meantime, she’s trying to take things in stride.
“It all depends on who you’re going to talk to,” she said. “So I’m just waiting for the official decision.”
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