April 8, 2022
BEIJING – When I was approached to cover the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games, I felt honored. Having a very close friend in the United States who lives with quadriplegia and witnessing firsthand the challenges he faces each day, I am inspired by his perseverance and independence. His spirit moves me. I knew attending the Paralympics would also move me. And it did, which I’ll cover for a future column.
A month prior to entering the closed loop for the Games, we were notified that we were required to complete hotel quarantine before returning to the general public. Why the need for quarantine after having been inside a strictly closed circuit during the events? With so many people traveling into Beijing from other countries, there had been positive COVID-19 cases. Three days after the Paralympics began, a positive case was found in my hotel. Quarantine was mandatory for seven days-or 14 days if a positive case appears in your hotel. So, 14 days it is.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having to quarantine, it didn’t deter my enthusiasm to attend the Winter Paralympics. I thought, the best thing to do is to start preparing immediately. For anyone, being confined to a small space for any period of time can have negative effects on one’s mental health. I began to analyze the items in my home that make me feel most “at home”.
As someone who is typically prepared for any “worst-case scenario”, I began to make a list of essentials: hygiene products, cleaning sprays and laundry soap of lavender fragrance, my bedding, TV streaming subscriptions-the list goes on. But, being my overly thorough self, I went a step above and beyond-a mini refrigerator and a travel washing machine. I plugged in the refrigerator three days ahead of leaving home and filled it with cheese, meat, yogurt and milk. When it was time to go, everything, including my clothing, fitted nicely into two extra-large suitcases.
But not everything went smoothly. When I arrived in my hotel room, I plugged the refrigerator in and made sure it was set at “cold”. I didn’t need to get anything from it as everything was brought for the quarantine period. But, on day three, I decided I would try some cheese. To my horror, it was warm inside the refrigerator-around 40 degrees! The cheese had melted. Fortunately there was a refrigerator in the room so I plugged it in and transferred everything. You may think all was lost. I sure did. However, the yogurt and meat survived and I was able to get more cheese from the dining hall at the Games.
Once we began quarantine, all participants (222 people) were put into a group chat with the staff and volunteers. After a few hours, the chat was filled with special requests and specific food orders. Aside from those who wanted to avoid food waste or having food allergies and religious diet restrictions, it was making quarantine more stressful. The chat group made me feel terrible for the members of staff who were trying their best to fulfill everyone’s commands and make people feel comfortable. Finally, I sent my own message, which read more or less: The hotel staff are working very hard. When you make so many demands, you put more work on the staff. Let’s all be grateful for what we have, which is food and a place to live. Not everyone in the world has these things. Let’s say thank you to the staff for their hard work.
My message received support and the group went quiet for about three hours. The lesson learned: add the hotel staff in the instance where you might need something urgent and then leave the group so you can enjoy your quarantine with as little bickering as possible.
On day five of quarantine, I woke up with a sore throat. Beijing is quite dry so I shrugged it off and played video games. On day six, I could barely swallow without wincing. On day seven, I was dealing with a low-grade fever. What does one do when one is in quarantine to prevent the spread of a virus? I was conflicted. I decided to wait it out. After all, it wasn’t a full-on fever and I was still functioning. I was hesitant because I wasn’t clear on the protocol-would they immediately take me to a hospital? Would everyone need to complete an extra seven days of quarantine because of me?
On day eight, it became clear that I needed assistance as my fever had spiked to almost 39 degrees. I thought my best course of action was to reach out to my team leader, who contacted the appropriate party. The staff was more than understanding and got in touch with a doctor who was able to diagnose me with streptococcus, who then provided me with an antibiotic. Since all of my PCR tests for COVID-19 had come back negative over the course of being inside the closed loop, there was no fanfare or worry.
People might be put off by the idea of quarantining outside their homes, but if you can prepare yourself with the items that you know will make you most comfortable and adopt the attitude that you have more than many others around the world, you’ll find it’s not as bad as it might seem.