It’s now official – I am required to wear a mask to work for the remainder of the semester and I have to state for the record that it is next to impossible to teach a language without the free use of one’s mouth. It’s like trying to play soccer in a gunny sack – and doubtless about as comfortable, too. This new rule is quite understandable, I guess, following a month in which over half the elementary and high schools in our city have cancelled classes and the hospitals are overflowing with feverish children.
To date, H1N1 has claimed the lives of two individuals in Xinjiang – one near Urumqi and another near Altay. Considering a recent headline I read declaring a death toll of about 3,900 in the United States over the past 6 months, it seems to me that we’ve been spared the worst of the damage so far. Even still, crisis management has taken effect which translates into even more changes to life here in Xinjiang on top of those we’ve already seen since the riots in July.
Every day on the front page of our city’s daily newspaper a short article details the tally of H1N1 cases over the past 24 hours, saying something like “Today there has been an addition of 3 confirmed case of H1N1 and 7 suspected cases”. The paragraph is the same every day with updated numbers plugged into the appropriate places. New health notices (such as the crazy health notice I received earlier this year) are handed out regularly describing the best ways to fight the virus and the best sterilization methods.
For elementary and high schools, one confirmed case of the flu means that class is cancelled for a week. Other events warranting cancellation include 5 or more students with a fever or two or more suspected cases of H1N1. Children are slowly grasping the severity of the situation and taking it to their own comical ends. A few have actually come into my class with a thermometer in their armpit which they checked every 5 minutes while I taught. At one point one boy slowly raised his hand and gravely told me he had to leave – his temperature had broken the acceptable level and he needed to go home. His classmates recoiled and adjusted their masks as he lowered his head in shame and exited my classroom. He’s fine now, but you would have thought at the time that he was walking to his own funeral.
From what I gather, when a doctor confirms a case of H1N1 (an expensive test I’m told – paid for by the government) a notice is sent to the school administrators who are then required to shut down for the remainder of the week. This same student then isn’t allowed out of their home until they receive a “clearance” note from the doctor saying that all is well (an example from my city below).
One younger member of the foreign family of six that lives above us was diagnosed with H1N1 and the entire family was put on house-arrest for a week. Just yesterday a doctor paid a home visit to deliver a piece of paper signing off on their health and allowing them to go back to school – something I think they’re excited to do after being cooped up for so long together.
Of course, thanks to the fact that the flow of information into Xinjiang has slowed to almost a trickle I’m not sure how all of this compares to the rest of the world, or even the rest of China. I’m just glad that my wife and I have remained “flu-free” this season. As a side note, I’m also excited to say that thanks to the use of facial masks, my students’ bad breath is now a problem of the past.
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