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Staying healthy in Korea

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I think I was already sick before I got on the plane to Korea. But certainly, the day we landed in Gwangju, Korea, I was not feeling well. I had these feverish spells that would just stop me in my tracks, bring on weird feverish dreams and drop me on the spot. Then hours would pass and everything was fine. I could even still do all my work. But being a little off in your health, in a new country and with jet-lag, wasn't the best way to start the trip. Fortunately, I've been fine since day two here and have no lingering health issues.

Before the trip, my wife had threatened to call the newspaper and hide my passport to keep me from flying to Korea. An outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) showed up in Seoul on May 20. She was more than a little concerned. The distance from Seoul to Gwangju is 166 miles, the same as from Lawrence to Wichita. So you can imagine how people in Gwangju are more than a little concerned about the outbreak. To date, the death toll is at 33 while 186 people have been diagnosed with MERS, most of this occurring around Seoul.

When we landed, Bobby and I noticed quite a few people in the Seoul airport wearing face masks. We've continued to see some of this in Gwangju, though sometimes this may be just general concern about the city air quality or allergies. Gwangju doesn't look like it's that polluted, but with 3 million people it probably has its fair share of pollutants in the air. But according to a thing called the Air Quality Index (AQI), Gwangju on Sunday, July 5 had a "good" score of 46 while a similar-sized city like Chicago had an unhealthy rating of 143.

Whether the general population here favors masks to avoid environmental issues or MERS, area hospitals are not messing around with the syndrome. At a Gwangju hospital just around the corner from our hotel, staff are positioned at all entrance doors to take temperatures and screen everyone entering.

Hospital staff guard entrances at a local hospital to monitor for MERS.

Hospital staff guard entrances at a local hospital to monitor for MERS. by Mike Yoder

On our way to a neighborhood cafe, we encountered a vehicle pumping out a spray of thick, white fog. It looked like exhaust from a large steam engine train or a KISS concert fog machine. We had no way to avoid the drift and we walked right through. We're still not sure what it is — I've witnessed it in two locations — but I've asked a couple people and they use words like "to clean the air," etc. My first thought was that it might be some kind of city fumigation to battle MERS, but people have told me it has nothing to do with MERS. After doing some Google research, I think it's most likely a city insect control program. I only wish I would have been wearing a mask of my own when I walked into this.

Today, Bobby noticed that at the spectator entrance to Dongkang Gym, where Team USA is playing most of their games, there is a security gate that not only detects metal but also reads your temperature. They are being very vigilant and cautious here in Gwangju.

Spectator security gates into venues also monitor people's temperatures.

Spectator security gates into venues also monitor people's temperatures. by Mike Yoder

World University Games staff monitors the spectator security gate for people with high temperatures.

World University Games staff monitors the spectator security gate for people with high temperatures. by Mike Yoder

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