In his day-to-day life, Olivier Che spends his days as one of our Registered Nurses working with clients. But when he recently left on a long-awaited trip to visit family in his homeland of Cameroon, West Africa, Olivier had no idea how much the world would change as the COVID-19 virus hit full force.
As Olivier traveled across three continents in early March, it became clear to him how small the world has become with the movement of people from one place to another. Before he left the USA, there were less than 300 declared cases of COVID-19 and very few cases in the Boston area. For most Americans, it was still business as usual, although school systems were just beginning to announce closures.
His first flight left Boston, arriving in Paris. The airport was not busy but flights were still arriving in and departing from Paris. With a one-hour layover, he confined himself to a small corner-chair that he disinfected with the Clorox wipes given to him by one of the AFCNS caregivers he works with – a welcomed gift since by that point hand sanitizer and other supplies were getting hard to find.
From Olivier’s viewpoint, COVID-19 was not being taken seriously in Paris, at least at the airport, even though there were high numbers starting to be reported in France and Italy. Passengers were not screened, no questions asked. The plane from the USA to Paris was half-empty, which luckily enabled the passengers to spread out.
The next plane he boarded, from Paris to Cameroon (West Africa), was full of travelers leaving Europe for a warmer climate. Upon arrival in Cameroon, all passengers were given questionnaires asking whether they were experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. Each passenger’s temperature was taken with a scan thermometer. Only two cases of COVID-19 had been reported in mid-March, but that went up to 124 by the end of the month.
In Cameroon, all schools had been closed, and bars and restaurants were required to close at 6pm. Social distancing was not quite as strict…no more than four people in a five-seater car and public transportation was restricted to half capacity. People were advised to stay home.
Cameroon air space soon closed with no flights getting in or out of the country. The US State Department made arrangements for one flight to DC and the flight immediately filled up leaving thousands of Americans stranded in Cameroon. One US Embassy staffer told Olivier how surprised they were at how many Americans were in Cameroon. He was also told that staffers were surprised that people wanted to leave a low-risk area (Africa) for a high-risk area (the USA). Olivier could not make the flight back on March 30th; however, the embassy had promised to get everyone back to the United States.
While in Cameroon, Olivier was able to observe the steps their government was taking to battle COVID-19. The Cameroon Ministry of Public Health’s campaign to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak included installing public handwashing stations equipped with soap, water and hand sanitizer throughout the country. These handwashing stations are free and available to the public. Businesses are required to have staff and customers use them and the general public is obliged to wash their hands before entering stores. Using his training as a nurse, Olivier stepped up to volunteer and teach residents proper handwashing techniques.
Olivier finally made it home to the US this past week. After recounting his experience, he surmised, “The world is a small village, wash your hands frequently. The world is a small village, stay home. The world is a small village, avoid touching your face. The world is a small village, listen to the local authorities for updates. The world is a small village, stay safe.”