Pandemic: the second time around

By Courtney Beal

It was Wednesday, September 19, 2018. 

I disembarked, along with Reed, 7, and Ana, 2, from a flight across the ocean to meet my husband in Hong Kong.

He’d been there for a month already – which meant I’d been single parenting in Batesville and had now survived (the most accurate word I can think of) a 16+ hour flight with two young children on my own. We were, for all intents and purposes, moving to Hong Kong where Wesley was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong for the fall 2018 semester. 

I’ll confess that I was less than enthusiastic about this proposition, at first. There might not have been any place you could have chosen that would have felt more foreign to me at that juncture of my life than Hong Kong. I’d only ever left the continent of North America once – to visit London. You can imagine the mental space I was in as I disembarked from what seemed like a never-ending flight.

As I literally drag Reed down the corridor, with Ana and all the carry-on luggage I can manage piled into the stroller, we’re immediately met by a team of masked attendants wearing lab goggles and pointing temperature guns at us. They gestured for me to stop while they scan Ana in the stroller, then Reed, then finally me.

I can’t overstate, as a westerner, how intrusive this felt. I had a brief moment of panic contemplating what would happen if one of our readings came back slightly high. 

We were greeted with this same process two more times before we finally were allowed to exit the secure area of the airport: once before we were allowed into the baggage claim area and again before we entered the immigration and customs area.  It felt like we had emerged from the plane into a completely different realm – one that felt less like reality and more like some dystopian novel.

I remember, on one of our first outings into the city, Reed looking up and asking, “Why are all of these people sick? Are we going to get sick, too?” It took a minute for me to realize he was referring to all the people he saw up and down the sidewalks, on the subway, and in the shops wearing face masks. 

You don’t have to spend long in Hong Kong before you notice the prevalence of face mask wearing. Descending into the subway during rush hour, you’ll encounter throngs of people wearing them. For a westerner, it felt unusual at first, and I’m seeing some of the same reactions here in the United States.

While living in Hong Kong, I became keenly aware of how much I relied on facial expressions for communication – especially since I couldn’t understand the language. I was forced to really look into others’ eyes, even in casual interactions where I might have just relied on the other’s tone of voice or smile.  Maybe this is what feels so uncomfortable – this loss of a casual social “middle ground.” It becomes necessary to either not acknowledge anyone, or truly make eye contact and give your undivided attention.

Pandemics aren’t a new experience for the city of Hong Kong. Asia’s World City – as Hong Kong is often called – was the epicenter for the SARS outbreak of 2003, and you can still feel the aftermath and scars of that outbreak, even today. Temperature scans and mask-wearing are commonplace for residents there. Any time you move across a major boundary line (like taking the ferry to Macau, flying to Japan or “mainland” China, etc…) your temperature is scanned multiple times. 

For many Hong Kongers, face masks have become a part of their fashion, similar to picking out shoes, a hat, or another accessory. We saw regular medical masks, but also all manner of prints and solid colors. Children sport their favorite cartoon or movie characters. Reed was particularly jealous of Marvel character masks. What felt like another world upon our arrival in Hong Kong quickly came to feel routine. The sight of people wearing face masks just became a normal part of the landscape for us.

Beal’s daughter, Ana, in Hong Kong in 2018.

Fast forward to winter/spring 2020…headlines begin showing up in my Facebook feed. 

Headlines like:

 “Coronavirus Cases Rise Above 24,000”

“First Coronavirus Death”

“Coronavirus Strikes a Wounded City”

“Economists Warn Coronavirus Risk Far Worse Than Realized”

“American Airlines Extends Flight Suspensions … Amidst Coronavirus” 

“Containing new coronavirus may not be feasible, experts say, as they warn of possible sustained global spread.”

I’m sure these headlines seem familiar. They started circulating widely in the United States around early March. These specific headlines, however, were showing up in my personal Facebook feed starting at the end of January. The“wounded city” referenced is Hong Kong. 

Having lived in Hong Kong for the last half of 2018 and still having friends and connections there, I’d been watching this virus and the damage and chaos left in its wake for more than a month before it seemed relevant here. 

I’ve watched, via a Facebook group called “Hong Kong Moms,” families that live in much smaller quarters than the average American family (the average size home in Hong Kong is 484 sq ft – let that sink in for a minute…) trying to navigate quarantining and working and schooling at home since the start of February. Add to that school closures experienced due to the large-scale protesting Hong Kong experienced in the fall, and you have kids that have been out of school more than in this year. 

Their struggles are the same: finding enough time in the day, keeping children occupied long enough to conduct a remote meeting, finding new ways of entertaining themselves at home, feeling isolated from family and friends. They may be on the other side of the globe, but their everyday struggles look just like ours these days. 

Other headlines have been coming  through my feed this week:

“Hong Kong Reports No New Covid-19 Cases”

“Hong Kong Reports No New Cases for 2nd Time in a Week”

“Hong Kong Medical Experts Say Social Distancing Measures Could Be Relaxed in Early May As Infection Rates Slow.”

It isn’t an absolute drop off, but new cases for the last two weeks have been in the single digits. What hope that brings, to have even a single day with no new cases reported. 

Hong Kongers use a phrase: “Be water.” You may have seen it used in relation to the pro-democracy protest movement that swept Hong Kong in the summer and fall of 2019 (and is still brewing, under the surface, even now, but that’s another story for another day). It’s not so much a specific strategy as a general philosophy. It’s been particularly necessary to “be water” when handling this global pandemic. With the rapid rate of information changes, it’s been necessary to constantly adapt to new information and policies. Water can carry great force and brute strength. It can be hard as stone, but it can also bend and move around barriers with grace. It is flexible. It adapts. It can wipe out an obstacle in mere seconds or it can wear it down gently over time. Its sound can be both deafening and healing. I’ve found that places of water are often where I find my greatest restoration.

That dystopian world we emerged into back in the fall of 2018 seems to have crept into our own reality here. It’s been interesting watching our culture wrestle with these norms of the “other,” feeling the familiar uneasiness with practices we associate with “that other place.”

I’m curious to see if our own culture will hold onto any of these practices in the scars this pandemic might leave. Will we see mask-wearing become more commonplace? Will temperature scans become a regular part of entering areas with large crowds like airports, arenas, amusement parks, etc…? Will we see the disappearance of handshakes as greetings, replaced by an intentional meeting of the eyes and nod to acknowledge another?

Perhaps, and maybe this feels uncomfortable. Maybe it feels like there would be some sort of loss in this scenario, but I offer a different perspective.

I’ve watched my own community come together and find ways of caring for and connecting with each other – despite the physical distance. I’ve watched local individuals, school districts, groups and businesses step in the gap to support and hold each other up. I’ve watched the relationship between my own two children deepen in unexpected ways. I’ve seen people flow, adapt, and overcome.

There will definitely be scars left when we emerge, but I have hope and faith that we will all figure out the next right steps together. I believe that, together, we can adapt to the new world in which we will emerge.

Whatever the case, we still have time to shape how our story ends. Let’s meet this challenge with strength, but also grace. Let’s focus on taking the next right step together. It’s my hope that when we come out on the other side of this, we will rise up with a greater sense of “we,” rather than “us” and “them.” 

Let’s “be water,” my friends. 

Courtney Beal is the Assistant Programmer for the Morrow Academic Center – Lyon College. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood from the University of Central Arkansas, and moved to Batesville when her husband, Wesley, was hired by Lyon College to teach English. Her family spent a few months in Hong Kong in the fall of 2018 when Wesley was awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong. Originally from Conway, Courtney is currently the Vice-President of the Eagle Mountain Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Batesville. She loves to travel as well as being a mom to her children.

Pandemic: Reporter Angelia Roberts covers local changes

The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation.

By Angelia Roberts

Contributor’s note: The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation. I came away from the meeting feeling better informed.

“We’ve got something at our doorstep that we are going to deal with one way or another.”

Dr. Adam Gray

When Dr. Adam Gray, who serves as the Izard County Health Officer, and Gary Paxson, CEO of White River Health System, spoke to a small group of medical personnel, first responders, business owners, law enforcement and others Monday night at Ozarka College in Melbourne, seating was limited and everyone was screened before being admitted.

Paxson gave an overview of the Corona Virus saying there is a lot of noise on social media.

“The goal is to give you some facts, some reality of what is going on.”

“People are saying we are overreacting and it’s not real. I’m here to tell you it is real. It is a very real, very contagious virus.”

He explained it usually obtained through person to person contact which is why social distancing is so important.

Studies show the people most affected are over 65 years of age, but that doesn’t mean a 20-year-old can’t contact it.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is telling us it is very likely it will hit all our communities.”

Paxson talked about safety measures the Batesville facility have already put into place as a precautionary measure.

He said 20 percent have the potential to be hospitalized, five percent could become critically ill, the importance of having the required staff and supplies are dwindling and very much needed.

In order to flatten the curve, a term that is being used to slow down the infection time-frame, schools are being closed, businesses are changing guidelines and social distancing is being urged. People are being told they should avoid large gatherings and with the latest number being no more than 10.

Paxson said the virus is extremely contagious and there is a limit to what the health industry can handle.

By shutting things down and asking people to self quarantine it can help spread that out over a greater amount of time.

“It is recoverable, but there is no vaccine for it. We are prepared and we have been talking about this like Dr. Gray said, for weeks. We have a plan that is set in place. We started screening before there was ever a case in the state of Arkansas.”

Paxson said he could not express enough the need for people to get correct information from reputable sources, such as the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health, the Surgeon General and others.

“We will probably have a patient at some point and at that point we will lock that unit down. We will most likely go to no visitors in our hospital. Our nursing homes are already there.”

—Gary Paxson

He also addressed people who are hoarding supplies saying, “It’s a terrible idea for our society.”

“We’ve had people who are business owners call and ask if one of their employees has been tested. If someone is tested and that test comes back positive we are mandated to report that to the Department of Health. He said that agency will do extensive questioning of who that person has come in contact with and track those people down to let them know they have been at risk.”

Those results are not immediate and can take as long as four days to get results.

In the meantime, people are being told to continually wash their hands and avoid as much contact with others, as possible.

Paxson said people should sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands and those who use hand sanitizer should make sure their hands are dry, because it doesn’t work if they are still wet.

He also addressed people who are wearing masks in public saying it’s a horrible idea and is not the required mask to give them protection from the virus, plus it’s causing a shortage in hospitals, nursing homes and first responders who need them.

“If you do contract this virus, research is showing the wearing of that (particular) mask is ineffective.”

While there is a growing concern of people wondering if they might have symptoms, Paxson said they need to understand they cannot randomly just test people at this time. “If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s not appropriate to do so. We have to preserve the resources we have.”

He said physicians are going to screen and rule out other sources before the OK is given to test for this particular virus.

“We feel like we are prepared. We’re treating this as if it is going to come. And, when it comes our staff is prepared and ready.”


“We are evidence based, and numbers driven,” Gray said.

The average person will give the flu to one and a half to 5 people.

The problem with this virus is that it affects an even high number with studies showing how one person can give it to anywhere from 6 to 8 people in about 6 days.

Gray talked about the math curve and how it doubles over a certain period of time.

Doubling time, in this instance, has been measured at about 6 days.

“Sixty days into this, at the rate it is going and with the known cases we have right now, we could potentially have 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the state of Arkansas within about a 30 day period.”

He gave an example of having 100,000 cases in 60 days and if 15 percent needed to be hospitalized they would need 15,000 beds. Arkansas has approximately 8,000 beds at this time.

“We can’t let it get there. We are not trying to scare anyone, we are just trying to stay ahead of it,” Gray said.

Looking at the statistics from China and Italy, Gray said we have an opportunity to learn from them.

He said China handled it very poorly and took a communist approach by quarantining 60 million people with guns pointed at them, “Which you can’t do here.”

Gray pointed out that Italy didn’t get behind the curve fast enough which caused it to spin out of control.

“Their health system got inundated and they are having to make choices that no doctor or family wants to ever have to make.”

Dr. Gray

“We are not freaking out. We know that probably 60 to 70 percent in the next four months is going to contract this and I would rather spread that out over 12 months instead of the next 60 days. This is a preparatory response, not a reactionary one,” Gray said.

Living in Arkansas does have its rewards, Gray said.

“I think Izard County Arkansas is the one place I want to be if something like this happens, because we are at the end of the world. They (Italy and China) are telling us, ‘Get people away from each other. Slow it down.'”

“Most of the people in this county, think alike really. We look alike. We think alike. We pray alike. Half think the government is out to get us and have been prepping for a long time. We have canned goods in our basements. We are prepared for this. We are gong to be fine.”

In closing Gray reminded everyone that we are all in this together.

“We have to lock arms and come together as a community and find out how to mitigate this. If we do the right thing – bend, don’t break – we will come out on the other side.”

Angelia Roberts served the Independence, Sharp, and Izard County areas as a seasoned reporter and the managing editor of the Batesville Daily Guard for decades. She is one of the most well-known, experienced, and APA-awarded news journalists in the state. She currently publishes Next Door magazine.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott coming to Batesville

Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) are partnering again to this year to provide the community with a celebration of the legacy and contributions of African Americans.

The Fourth Annual Black History Month Celebration will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at UACCB.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott will be the keynote speaker.

Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Lai-Monté Hunter said the event brings Batesville together for a community-wide celebration of African American traditions and culture. It will feature music and ministry.

“The church is very prominent in African American culture, so we’re bringing those elements together,” Hunter noted.

Musical groups from various churches in the Batesville area will perform, as well as the Lyon College Gospel Choir.

The event will be student-focused, with participation from Lyon’s Black Student Association and UACCB’s Multicultural Student Association.

The event is free and open to the public.

Father Stephen Gadberry reflects on Valentine’s Day: When does love ‘stick’?

Father Stephen Gadberry answers: What is love, and when and how does it last for the long haul?

Librarian Vanessa Adams’s must-read list

The book you should read if you haven’t already: Librarian Extraordinaire Vanessa Adams answers

By Vanessa Adams

I have eclectic tastes in just about everything, and particularly in books. While I lean toward literary classics and literary fiction, as long as it’s well-written, it can be from any genre.

Because Valentine’s Day is upcoming, I wanted to share my love of stories. Check out some of my favorites below…

The Grapes of Wrath, by JOHN STEINBECK, will always be my number one favorite book because of his descriptions of human suffering and the will to survive.

Mother Joad is one of the strongest female characters in literature and probably the character who influenced my reading tastes more than any other.

Jane Eyre, by CHARLOTTE BRONTE, is the story of a strong woman who maintains her virtue and courage while trying to survive in a man’s world of the nineteenth century. It is a work of art. 

When I read A Moveable Feast by ERNEST HEMINGWAY, I feel as if I’m inside Hemingway’s head and experiencing what it’s like to be a great writer. Yes, the title is misspelled because Hemingway wasn’t a good speller. He was a brilliant writer; however, and this is his nonfiction account of his expat days in Paris.

I love Southern writers, I really love Southern Gothic, and FLANNERY O’CONNOR is the queen of this genre. Her short stories are genius!

I highly recommend Wise Blood.

JAMI ATTENBERG is known as the “Queen of Dysfunctional Family Fiction,” and The Middlesteins, published in 2012, is probably her best. I loved it, and will plan to read it several more times just to pick up some of the humor I’ve forgotten.

Once in a while, I need an exciting thriller or mystery that keeps me up all night. I read A Small Town, by THOMAS PERRY, in January of this year, and could not put it down!

It’s suspenseful from the first page and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be hooked from the beginning. 

Vanessa Adams is the classy lady who directs the local library in historic downtown Batesville, Ark. In addition to reading books, she also enjoys acting with the Batesville Community Theatre. She has a Master’s of Arts in English from Arkansas State University, and a Master’s of Arts in Library Science from the University of Missouri. Originally from Jonesboro, she now calls Batesville home.

About The Oddfellow…

The Oddfellow is a mostly a group of displaced recovering journalists hell-bent on forcing our craft even if the world doesn’t much like newspaper types anymore. We’ve got a few columnists, creative writers, and historians hanging around the place too.

We don’t promise it’ll all be good. But it will be local, if nothing else. And hopefully — heaven help us — anything but boring.

About our name

In the early 1800’s, as Batesville was first founded and began to grow, a society called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was formed to serve the many needs in the community. Over the years the motley group of everyday working folks cared for the community through charitable acts: taking care of the poor, housing widows, and most notably, constructing a beautiful orphanage. The structure sat on the hillside in West Side where an elementary is now located.

While The Oddfellow is not affiliated with the original chapter of the I.O.O.F, the name “oddfellow” was picked as an homage to this group of people who once roamed the dirt streets of Batesville.

Writers and other generally odd people welcome…

If you are a writer (or a photographer, or a videographer, or a podcaster), we’d like to find a spot for you here.

Email to inquire.