We just returned from an incredible, but poorly timed trip to Malaysia. The trip was fabulous, right up until the time we had to change our flights and head home early. I won’t bore you with the travel delay disasters we experienced, but 2.5 days later we are home and all are healthy as of now. We are completely physically and emotionally exhausted.
I wanted to share a couple of stark contrasts I noticed between the country of Malaysia and the US. In Malaysia, we went to 4 cities including Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabulu, Lahad Datu, and Sandakan. I don’t consider Malaysia to be a 1st world country, and given the levels of poverty we saw in the countryside I think that is likely correct. However, evidence of Malaysia’s COVID-19 enforcement was evident everywhere, even in the remote rainforest where we were staying. Mobile carriers sent a message about social distancing every day. The carrier ID at the top of my phone that normally says ATT or Sprint said “Stay Home” instead. In Kuala Lumpur airport, they had security guards enforcing distancing. Information banners with written and visual guidance were everywhere printed by their ministry of health. The seats in the airport were taped off so that there was an empty seat between each open one. All employees were wearing masks, hand sanitizer was at virtually every counter, cash register, and at stations posted everywhere. Their gov’t has a totally consistent message: stay home, keep your distance, clean your hands. AND THE ENTIRE COUNTRY IS DOING IT.
In contrast, at the busiest airport in the world in Atlanta, maybe 5% of customs and border control personnel were wearing masks or gloves. Hand sanitizer was nowhere to be found other than at some of the bathrooms. Shops and stores were open, business as usual. People were jamming together in lines, nobody was enforcing spacing. People were staring at us and shaking their heads because we were all wearing masks. And before you tell me that masks aren’t that effective, we were doing it to protect others in case we were infectious and to prevent us from touching our faces too often. We got off a flight from Tokyo, and a passenger three seats away from me was actively symptomatic with high fever, vomiting, and body aches and only put on a mask after calling for medical assistance half way through the flight. The paramedics came with CDC personnel at the gate and took her off the plane. But the rest of the passengers went through customs like nothing had happened. Margaret and my boys and I were fever screened because we reported coming from Malaysia and Singapore, but that was it. 99% of people coming from international flights, including Tokyo, UK, and other EU countries passed through, including touching the fingerprint scanners, with no further screening or protection measures.
I personally know 5 people who are infected, 3 of them are physicians. This is not a joke or a hoax, people are and will die on a MASSIVE scale unless extreme measures are taken. It is the best argument we could make for a strong public health system and for strong federal government response. We need a clear and consistent message to truly #flattenthecurve, and it speaks volumes about our leadership that we need model our nationwide response after other countries like Malaysia. I hope everyone remembers this come November.
First posted on AP Jason Hassenstab Facebook