As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Minnesota and the United States with various safety and stay-at-home measures in place, a former Minnesotan shared her experiences from the epidemic in the Guangdong province of China.

Karentina Albin, formerly of Verndale in north-central Minnesota, lives in the city of Zhuhai and followed numerous restrictions, such as needing to wear a mask when out in public and temperature checks.

She didn’t know of anyone with COVID-19 in her apartment complex, though it was “terrifying” when she learned about a case across the street.

She also learned that a person that was diagnosed with COVID-19 was in Sam’s Club at the same time as her. The Chinese government shared messages with information about individuals with COVID-19, from the stores they had shopped in to their seat on a specific train route and where they live.

She was in Guangdong when the outbreak started getting serious in the province around Jan. 25. She has been living in China since 2012. At first, the cases of COVID-19 and the lockdown were only in the city of Wuhan, but then Albin said she got scared as the cases came to Guangdong and their province was also locked down. The South China Morning Post reported the Guangdong province had the second highest number of cases outside of the province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, despite being 577 miles from one another, according to Albin.

Living in the lockdown

“It was really scary at first because most of the sources are in Chinese and so reading was overwhelming,” Albin said.

Albin said the media was sometimes conflicting or confusing, she wasn’t able to buy masks, there was nothing left at the supermarket and businesses around her were closing, like current experiences in the U.S. One of the differences was in completing grocery shopping or receiving delivered food.

“It was a little different here because we had to go through so many different little things in order to do simple tasks,” Albin said.

Each time people went to Walmart, a woman with goggles, a visor and a full plastic sheet stood outside to take people’s temperature to check for a fever. When returning to her apartment complex, Albin again had her temperature checked, filled out a form and walked through a mat of disinfectant to avoid any virus droplets being tracked inside the complex.

In March, Albin visited her husband, Simon, who was working in the city of Macau. The journey took seven hours instead of 30 minutes to an hour. It included passport checks and sitting in a huge room with approximately 600 people for temperature checks every two hours, which she only had to go through twice because her temperature stayed the same.

“Probably what I’m going to remember most from this is all of the passport check, the temperature check, the jumping through hoops,” Albin said.

Albin received texts daily about staying inside and wearing a mask when outside. In this message, the Provincial Health Commission and the Provincial Emergency Management Department gave several tips for shopping at supermarkets or shopping malls. The message was translated into English by Albin.
Photo courtesy of Karentina Albin
Albin received texts daily about staying inside and wearing a mask when outside. In this message, the Provincial Health Commission and the Provincial Emergency Management Department gave several tips for shopping at supermarkets or shopping malls. The message was translated into English by Albin. Photo courtesy of Karentina Albin
Throughout the stressful time, Albin saw the daily text messages from the local government as a good thing. People were encouraged to stay inside, to not go out unless necessary, to not gather and wear a mask outside.

“When we were told to do something we just did it because it was like, this is good for the country, this is good for your neighbor, and I’m a foreigner so I’m not going to rock the boat,” Albin said.

Adjusting to the lockdown

The lockdown started at the end of January and was lifted at the end of March with downgrading from “the most severe level of emergency response” Grade I to Grade II on Feb. 24, according to the South China Morning Post. During these months, Albin felt lucky to continue her job online with a local university and found ways to keep busy, including going for walks, watching TV, reading, learning to cook Chinese cuisine, communicating with people through technology and organizing her apartment.

“I think the most important thing is, I know it sounds hard to stay inside and you don’t have to stay in your house for 24 hours, you can go out to the front yard, and I mean it’s March in Minnesota so it’s not that cold anymore, you can go for a walk … but obviously you shouldn't be going to your friend's house,” Albin said.

These types of activities helped Albin adjust to the lockdown measures, which were “a little bit different” than the stay at home orders for Minnesotans that Gov. Tim Walz started on March 27 through April 10. Albin benefited from creating a schedule and dressing like she was going out to work.

A low population density doesn't limit people’s exposure because you can’t know where everyone has been or who they have been in contact with, according to Albin.

“I think it’s just really important to understand that these measures are not to frustrate you or annoy you or hinder your life in some way," Albin said.

Slowly returning to normalcy

As provinces in China are “very slowly” returning to normalcy, Albin said she was recently able to eat lunch in a restaurant, though tables are set 1 meter apart, full capacity is not allowed, temperatures are checked and forms are filled out. Schools in 18 provinces are reopening after April 8, according to Albin.

“Things aren’t totally back to normal here and it’ll take some time, so that’s what the U.S. has to remember too, it will take time to go back to normal,” Albin said.