Scott and Karen Chapman are on lockdown in their apartment in Belgium because of the Coronavirus. The country has 3,401 cases and 75 deaths from the virus.
On Monday Scott went to work only to be told he and his coworkers must work from home.
And, anyone found traveling must have a special letter in order to go to work or the doctor.
“Fines are being issued by police for noncompliance,” Chapman said.
Also Monday, the Belgian health minister said the government is considering extending the lockdown for another eight weeks.
The former Arab couple has been there for several years. Scott works for the U.S. Garrison there, which is sort of like a city hall for a small city, performing the same functions for military members. Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal has a garrison.
They have two pieces of advise for those of us here: “Concern is necessary – panic is harmful,” and “don’t roam – stay home.”
Karen Glass Chapman was raised in Arab and is the daughter of the late Charles and Helen Glass, a longtime teacher in Arab.
Their daughters are Kristen, who lives in Tennessee, and Kara, who lives in South Korea.
Scott Chapman answered questions from the Tribune by e-mail.
They have 13 sites spread over Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern Germany.
“Because of the crisis we are not able to move between countries, so we are not able to visit or help our fellow employees in the other countries,” Scott Chapman said.
Normally they have frequent travel between each site, he said.
“The main goal of U.S. Army Europe is to keep our military force ready to fight during the spread of the virus,” Chapman said. “The Army is taking extra precautions because the threat from Russia is still very real.”
The garrison’s commander activated its emergency operations center a full four weeks before Belgium had a confirmed case of Coronavirus.
“I have worked in the emergency operations center these four weeks, and we are working to reduce the spread of the virus among our armed forces and civilians,” Chapman said. “I work in the facilities department, and our main task has been to set up quarantine and isolation facilities for those who have been exposed and those who tested positive, respectively.”
The virus has overloaded the medical facilities in Italy and France.
Chapman said that, in response to the real possibility local hospitals being overloaded with cases, they are looking at setting up wartime military hospitals in some of the U.S.’s older WWII buildings.
Usually, when he drives to work, there is a serious traffic jam just outside their apartment because of school and work traffic, but now the roads are deserted.
Belgians, and Europeans in general, love their bars and cafes, as do Americans, but they are now empty.
Grocery stores are open, but only 10 people at a time can go in, and they must wear gloves while inside the store. Others wanting to grocery shop must wait in line outside until the next 10 are allowed in.
“And, at 8 p.m. people stand on their balconies and clap to show solidarity for the healthcare workers,” Chapman said.
Belgium shut down the nursing homes early on.
“Once they saw how many elderly were dying in Italy, the government here no longer allowed family members to visit,” he said.
Most suppliers in the region have shut down, so, in short order, Chapman expects only food distributors will be operating.
Just like here in the states, there are no sports to watch.
“As you know, sporting events are the outlet we all use to forget about the ‘real world,’ but not we don’t even have sports,” he said.
Additionally, there is a real concern about a rise in domestic violence because of everyone staying home, and the government is using drones to verify that parks and such remain empty.
“Overdue electric, gas and water bills aren’t being pursued until June,” he said. “The government is paying out to small business owners and paying workers.”
The Chapmans live 15 miles from France, and they visited northern Italy a week before the outbreak began there.
“But now everything in Europe is closed,” Chapman said. “It all happened really quickly. Each day, another country is closing its borders. Countries here were closing borders at the same time President Trump was being chastised for wanting to close the U.S. border.
“We have a soldier in Belgium whose father, who lived in Germany, died, but he cannot cross the border to go to the funeral” he continued.
As it is, they can only leave their homes for vital work, grocery shopping, doctor visits, the pharmacy or the bank.
“In Italy, Spain and France, people are facing fines of up to $4,000 for breaking those rules,” Chapman said.
Chapman said he’s been watching people back in the U.S. “laugh” and “make fun” at what’s been happening in Europe.
“We were here trying to warn people back home about the virus, but people kept replying, ‘the flu kills more people,’” Chapman said.
He even posted a photo of his grandson on Facebook and warned how important social distancing is, only to get replies about how cute his grandson is.
“The kids on spring break in Florida after the U.S. realized what was happening is amazing,” Chapman said. “It will certainly lead to the spread of the virus. (It has.)
“It is very much like what happened in Italy,” he continued. “The days after Italy closed schools and businesses, the northern Italians went to the beach like it was vacation time. This is one big reason for the rapid spread of the virus.”
Chapman said that, unfortunately, the young and healthy are often “selfish” in their actions.
“They think they can’t be hurt by the virus, but what they do is get infected and then carry the virus back to their parents or grandparents who are very vulnerable,” he said. “People must self isolate and use social distancing to keep the virus from spreading and then killing loved ones.”
Chapman said that, from his point of view, there are two countries that are at the extreme of how to handle the crisis – South Korea and Italy, even though Italy was late to it.
“We know how Korea handled the virus because our daughter Kara lives there,” he said. “She is very close to the city where the outbreak happened.
“Korea was very swift in enacting social distance guidelines and also tracking confirmed cases, he continued. “This has kept the death rate very low.”
Italy was just the opposite, he said.
The U.S. is certainly closer to Italy in how it’s responded, and the Chapmans are worried the outbreak in U.S. will be very bad.
“The U.S. healthcare providers will be overwhelmed like those in China, Korea and Europe,” he said. “In Italy, they are having to decide which patients will die and which patients they will try to save.
“We worried every day for Kara during the outbreak in Korea,” he continued. “Then Korea slowed and the outbreak started in Europe causing her to worry about us in Belgium. Now, we are all worried about Kristen in Tennessee.”