Earlier this week, I stepped into my condo’s elevator with my son and nearly a dozen friendly neighbors. The doors closed and I knew everyone was thinking about the same thing: COVID-19.
How did I know? Maybe it was because it’s all anyone talks or thinks about these days. Maybe it was all of the nervous eyes peering over N-95 face masks. Or maybe it’s the way people have been touching the elevator buttons with their elbows, shoulders, wallets, keys—anything but their hands. One particularly agile neighbor has even mastered the ability to press elevator buttons with the pointy end of her high heels while gracefully balancing on her other foot.
Not even five seconds into our silent trek up to the 12th floor, my six-year-old son sneezed. Although he did what he’s been taught and sneezed into his elbow, I opened my mouth immediately to start apologizing and reassuring everyone he wasn’t sick and didn’t have a fever. But before I could utter a word, everyone started laughing at the perfectly horrible timing of his sneeze. Not polite, nervous laughs, but the kind of belly laugh that warms you from the inside out. Ironically, it took a sneeze in an elevator to momentarily snap everyone out of their COVID-19 worries.
I’ve never thought of myself as a germaphobe. Sure, I’d wash my hands often and use hand sanitizer as needed, but I never worried about germs. I didn’t avoid going to the mall or taking my kids to the movie theater, and I never paused to wonder if I had accidentally touched my eyes, nose or mouth without first washing my hands.
All that has changed. I am now officially somewhere on the germaphobic spectrum. My greatest worry isn’t necessarily that I will catch the virus; it’s that my kids will get it and will have to stay in hospital quarantine for however long by themselves without my husband or me. That’s the fear that’s fueling many of my decisions these days: frequent hand sanitizer purchases, avoidance of crowded malls, refusal to touch public handrails, and so on. These are decisions that, two months ago, would have seemed irrational.
I’m worried, but I don’t feel panicked. I feel confident the Singapore government is doing everything it can to slow the spread of this extremely contagious virus. I receive news and updates 2-3 times each day directly from the government via a WhatsApp text they set up when COVID-19 first surfaced in Singapore. They update us on the number of cases, describe where each infected person visited before they were quarantined, and give details on government initiatives related to the virus. I couldn’t be more impressed with their communication and quick action.
It’s not just the government that’s working to slow the spread of the virus. From my perspective, every facet of the community is working together to keep people healthy. Schools, office building, zoos, museums, restaurants, and many other public entities now check people’s temperature before they’re allowed to enter. My kids’ classes are split in half for recess and lunchtime, and they have to sit with a seat separating them at school assemblies. Large events have been postponed, and numerous school trips have been cancelled. Teachers have been getting everything in order to teach kids remotely if the school closes.
As horrific as this situation is, I’ve fallen in love with Singapore even more as I’ve watched the community work together to slow the spread. This is helping me to balance my fear with trust and faith.
So my family is taking a wait and see approach. We’ll see how the situation evolves and will then make decisions about school, etc. But for now, we’re planning a low-key weekend at home. Tonight we’re having dinner at Café Oberton, followed by a movie and popcorn at the Oberton Cineplex, which currently smells less like buttered popcorn and more like Clorox, Lysol and an interesting mix of hand sanitizers.