By Mark Musser
While the Trump administration’s Department of Health is forecasting some 200k or more deaths from the coronavirus scare and lots of hell over the next few weeks, here is the bell curve that South Korea has been sliding out of now since the middle of March as they are well on their way out of the virus scare. South Korea was also hit pretty good with this virus being right next door to China. The people recovering, graphed in the green color, are now also biting deeply into those who are still sick, represented by the blue color. Those who have died are colored in red in between the green and the blue. Officially, as of April 1st, about 9,887 got the virus, 165 died, with more than 5,567 who have now recovered and some 4,155 who are still sick. Everyone is still working and schools are in session. How did they do this? Are their some lessons Americans can learn here? Particularly when you consider that South Korea’s numbers are undoubtedly the most reliable we have on this virus on the planet. A large part of this virus scare is lack of good data which the media has been misusing feverishly. As such, no one knows how many have the virus because most of the cases are mild – which South Korea has already proven.
I have been in and out of South Korea several times over the last number of years, and I do have a contact friend there who openly said the following without any fear, “This is not a deadly virus. Even though everyone is saying that, that’s because they aren’t able to get a handle on it.” So how is it that the South Koreans got a handle on this virus without stopping the economy or shutting down the country? Is it simply because they have a small country? They do have a sizable population that is very crowded standing at 52 million people which is crammed into a geographical location about the size of western Washington – a perfect situation for a pandemic to spread, but didn’t. And yes, when I flew in and out of Korea, it was also very apparent they took communicable diseases seriously, particularly at airports. Health is a very much part of their daily routine.
My contact friend went on to point out, “Yes, I feel very blessed to be living here in South Korea during this time. There are several factors I think that has made South Korea so successful in how they’ve handled this virus. The first one is, of course they were super proactive from the moment they heard about it. They started screening for fevers, wearing masks, putting out hand sanitizer everywhere, and just trying to make the public aware of what was happening. They were also very proactive, in testing and separating anyone who tested positive for the virus, whether they were showing symptoms or not. Because as you are correct, the majority of the cases are quite mild. It’s just very contagious. So South Korea ended up turning some factory warehouses and training areas into large quarantine centers for anyone who had mild symptoms or no symptoms, but still tested positive for the virus. That saved our hospitals only for the small percentage that were actually seriously sick.” The other very important practice they did was to quarantine the elderly to keep them from getting it in the first place so the hospitals would not be overflooded with such cases that also drives up the fatality rate quickly – and which, of course, compromises their whole ability to properly treat people who get nailed with this virus. In this way, they had enough beds and hospital equipment to be able to help those whose symptoms developed into something far more serious – which it most certainly does with certain people. This virus has a pretty big kick to it in certain people for sure.
My contact also added, “In addition to all of that, you have to remember that this is not the first time South Korea has handled some kind of virus. They have had multiple virus outbreaks over the years, and had all of the supplies on hand, and also very calmly dealt with it from the very first day. They did not shut anything down, except for large group gatherings, and advising us to not make unnecessary trips out. On top of all that, is of course the south Korean culture. They are a group culture, and will do everything they can to help and protect one another. In other cultures where they are more independent, it’s going to be a constant struggle to get everyone focused and working in the same direction.”
She then made this note, sentiments which I share deeply, “It grieves my heart as I see the rest of the world struggle. I wish in some ways they could learn from South Korea, and not panic, and just deal with it one day at a time. We had our scary moment too, when we had 5000 cases in one city and it really made people nervous and afraid. But the government and the medical staff just keep handling it very matter-of-factly, and because they didn’t quarantine everyone – it didn’t make us panic.” I think Americans need to re-read the last statement again.
South Korea, of course, has its own history and unique circumstances that favored them getting on top of this virus pretty quickly. However, perhaps the most important practice is that they did not panic. Neither is it a coincidence that South Korea has very strong Judeo-Christian values, has a great respect for the elderly, and will not be saddled with a 2 trillion dollar stimulus package coming out the other side of this. General MacArthur would be proud.
In 1989, Mark Musser graduated from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, one of the premier environmental institutions in the country. In 1994, he received a Master of Divinity from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Mark is married to Caren. They have three children. Mark and his family have been missionaries to the former Soviet Union for nine years now, while planting a church in Olympia, Washington called Grace Redeemer Bible Church in between missions. While on the mission field, Mark became captivated by the history of World War II on the Eastern Front. Mark is a missionary, pastor, farmer, and writer, depending on what time of day and year it is.