Living Through Two Epidemics

While SARS and COVID-19 are similar viruses, the 2003 SARS epidemic was very different from the current one.

During the past few months, doctors and nurses have done their best to keep patients healthy throughout the pandemic. My mother, Fan Zhang, is a nurse who has experienced both the COVID-19 pandemic this year and the SARS outbreak in China in 2003. I asked her a few questions about the differences between these two outbreaks and her experiences during both.  

Q: You’ve mentioned before that you had to work in China while the first SARS outbreak occurred in China. How would you describe the difference between that outbreak versus COVID-19?

A: The SARS outbreak was a lot more deadly. It had a much higher mortality rate so people who entered the hospital couldn’t actually spread it to others. Right now, with COVID-19, some people have mild symptoms and are able to spread it to others, which makes it harder to contain.

Q: Do you think your experience with SARS in China has made you have a different attitude towards COVID-19 now?

I think while people have come together to find solutions for it, COVID has also separated a lot of people.

— Fan Zhang

A: It definitely made me more careful during the beginning of this pandemic. Both the hospital system and government system are very different, so there are different processes to the things that happen. 

Q: Would you say that people have come together as a result of COVID-19? 

A: I think while people have come together to find solutions for it, COVID has also separated a lot of people. Just look at the number of divorces that have happened since quarantine started. It’s hard to say what the impact of COVID will be on social relationships.

Q: As an immigrant from China, did people ever treat you differently throughout the course of this pandemic? Especially as a hospital worker?

A: Not at all. People have been very supportive and encouraging throughout the entire process. 

Q: What do you think people could’ve done better to begin with to decrease the spread of COVID?

A: I think if people paid more attention in the beginning [to] just wearing masks and social distancing, it would’ve helped a lot. We were doing good at first with flattening the curve, especially in Kentucky. It’s unfortunate that the number of cases had to go up.

Q: What do you think is something we can do better right now to decrease the spread of COVID?

A: Social distancing and wearing masks. A lot of people have let down their guard and that’s why cases have been rising steadily.

As of Nov. 2, Fayette County was in the “red zone” with 47.7 cases per 100,000 residents. My mother’s words are a reminder that we need to work together as a community to care for each other and stop the spread of COVID-19.