Nick Bowman, a Texas Tech journalism and creative media industries professor and Fulbright U.S. Scholar award recipient, spent the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester in Taipei.
As part of the Fulbright Scholar award, he was able to go to Taipei and teach a class there. However, his time was cut short due to COVID-19.
“I got there in the beginning of January, on Jan. 9.” He said, “COVID-19 broke within a week, week and a half of that.”
Bowman said that the country reacted very quickly to what was called in Taiwan “The Wuhan Coronavirus.” In Taiwan, they took very quick measures to monitor their health. Whether that be wearing facemasks, constantly checking temperature or wearing gloves.
In many popular places such as restaurants and bars in Taipei, they resorted to checking everyone’s temperature before they entered the establishment. If someone did not have a fever they would be allowed to go inside.
“Three employees in the bar stop me, and they just swiped my forehead,” said Bowman. “I didn’t recognize what was going on right away.”
After having his temperature checked they employee sprayed his hands with disinfectant.
“The day that happened, I think it was January 31,” he said. “I would say it was pretty common to get my temperature checked in Taiwan anywhere between six and ten times a day.”
During his time in Taipei after COVID-19 broke, Bowman said that it was like going through a perfume counter at the mall. People would just walk by and spray one another with disinfectant. They also required the use of facemasks.
“The reason you wear a facemask is not to protect yourself,” Bowman said. “It was that you might be a carrier. So, the idea is that if you were to sneeze or cough, you wouldn’t spread the virus.”
On campus in Taipei, they closed every entrance but three of the doors. He said that each of the three entryways had thermal scanners that you would have to walk through.
“Once you were on campus, you walk through the scanner and they would stamp your hands.” Bowman said, “they would change the stamps every day so you couldn’t lie.”
Every building that one would go into would also take their temperature on campus, said Bowman. Even if you had the stamp, they would still scan you again.
“They delayed the start of school by two weeks,” he said. “To give all of the universities time to make a plan to keep their campuses safe.”
Many precautions were taken by the universities, Bowman said. The thermal scanners, disinfectant, temperature checks and allowing students to stay home if they wanted to.
“We basically stopped enforcing attendance policy of any kind.” He said, “Not to mention a lot of students from China who could not come to Taiwan.”
All of our classes were being recorded live, said Bowman. Then we would store it on tape so that students could either dial-in live or watch the videos later.
“Which ironically enough has allowed my transition back to the U.S. because I am still going to be teaching the rest of the semester.” He said, “All of my students still meet in the same classroom and I am just going to be dialing-in from my house here in West Texas.”
There was a real sense of the government being involved and watching COVID-19 to help citizens, he said. Every day the newspapers provided as much information as possible to help show where cases were confirmed and possible contamination areas.
“The order to leave came from the state department,” Bowman said. “When they called the state of emergency here in the United States, that triggers a lot of reaction.”
One of the things the state of emergency triggered was the people studying abroad or researching abroad were recommended to come home. He said, the fear that if you didn’t come home, you may not be able to come home acted as a driving force.
When coming back to the United States, Bowman said that the atmosphere was completely unlike that of Taipei.
“The biggest thing with the United States is just panic and selfishness,” he said. “It was just wanting extra stuff. The most important thing was to take care of me”
While coming home, he said he noticed on social media that the virus had been turned into a political problem.
“Having lived, from day one, in front of COVID,” he said. “That was hard for me. This idea that the media is responsible for the panic.”