This is my experience as a female Asian American epidemiologist based in London. My life as an expat and third-culture kid mean I travel to several countries around the world annually.
I first learned about COVID-19 right before my flight back to the San Francisco Bay Area in late January to celebrate Chinese New Year. This area was the first place in the US to have coronavirus. As an epidemiologist with SARS outbreak still fresh in my mind, I knew the risks posed by flying during a time when many people were traveling for Chinese New Year. I was about the cancel my flight, but I was talked out of it; I have been planning to move back to the states for quite some time and it was the peak recruitment season in the US for permanent career jobs.
I fell sick for a weekend after I flew back to California. I spent most of my three-week stay in self-isolation. Few people avoided us in the local park, as they feared that people of Asian descent were carriers. My sister even received a call at work from a patient requesting non-Asian doctors/nurses. This was in the heart of Silicon Valley. I was a bit shocked to see blatant racism against Asian Americans in a liberal area that is predominately Asian.
I was in California until Valentine’s Day. The highlights of my stay there were:
- Going to the DMV to renew my driver’s license, and being around crowds.
- Going to Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco Chinatown. It was my first time ever as a San Franciscan, and not surprisingly, people were not avoiding me there. Again, crowds.
- Road trip to Santa Cruz with my dog and family.
- Doing several job interviews.
- Seeing Keanu Reeves shooting Matrix 4 in San Francisco.
After I flew back to London, I fell ill, and California entered lockdown. It was worse than jet lag and flu combined. I had developed new symptoms each week and felt worse every other day. My request to get tested for coronavirus was dismissed by the English national health system (NHS) for four weeks and one of the doctors let me know that I fell through the crack as Public Health England was not testing people who had traveled to the US and were symptomatic. By the 4th week, I found out all the airport staff I interacted with in San Jose, California were tested positive. I let the NHS know, and they ordered me to get tested and self-isolate.
However, I got acutely unwell and called the ambulance. They came without protective gear and canceled my test since I was out of the time-frame for it. I was told if I had the coronavirus, I’d be fine as it is just like the flu. It was a very unpleasant experience and I found one of them extremely unprofessional. I let them know that in my professional opinion as an epidemiologist, there is no way they can be absolutely certain I did not have the virus, and it is medically negligent for them to cancel my test, telling me it is safe to fly again so soon internationally and work in the office. This was the day that WHO advised “test, test, test” for the virus, and when England decided to stop testing. I called the NHS again for clarity of the testing situation and they told me as the rules had been changed that minute, assume the test was canceled if I did not hear back in five days.
Frustrated, I submitted my request to the CEO at NHS to prioritize testing of NHS workers. This was back in March. In the meantime, my flight back to the US that same month was canceled by my airline, and so were the majority of my job interviews. I finally got tested in May, three months after I developed the symptoms. Tested too late, my results showed negative, and now I am waiting for the antibody test. In total, I have been in self isolation in the US and UK off and on for almost five months since late January.
As I’d been stuck in London longer than I’d like, my anxiety went through the roof. As a light sleeper, I had been unable to sleep in my room with poor sound insulation. I looked at more remote places to move to in England, but they all requested 6-month to 1-year commitment. My housemate then got furloughed, so I swapped my small low-ceiling five-feet wide room with his bigger and quieter room.
In this period, I find cycling and interacting virtually with friends and family helped let off some steam. However, since the lockdown has been eased, it’s become too crowded to go cycling or strolling, so I have started going in less busy time and turned my new bigger room into a home gym.
I hope to be able to see my loved ones more often in person again after this is over. I hope to start a new chapter of my life as an epidemiologist back home in California. This means continue applying for jobs and networking, in order to pave the way for my future in the Golden State.
This article was originally published here.
Submitted by Amy Wang, Alameda County – Newark.