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Stories: President & Sister Nielson Deal with the SARS Crisis

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President & Sister Nielson Deal with the SARS Crisis 14 May 2003
President Thomas P. Nielson sent this to me, along with a few other mission alumni, and gave me permission to post this to the mission.net web site. President Nielson was the president of the Taiwan Mission, and later the Taiwan Taipei Mission after it split, all from 1974 to 1977. He and Sister Nielson are now completing their service as President and Matron of the Taiwan Taipei Temple. In this letter, President Nielson gives some personal insight into the SARS crisis in Taiwan, and how they are dealing with it. We should remember them in our prayers.

Picture of President and Sister Nielson with their SARS masks.


Thomas P. Nielson
Personal Journal
“SARS” in Taiwan
Friday, May 9, 2003

Although initially the situation here in Taiwan seemed to be under control and the public was relatively calm, beginning mid-April SARS related cases dramatically increased. This change in public and official position was connected to a sudden outbreak of the SARS virus in the Hoping Hospital in the crowded Wanhua District of Taipei. The famous Lung Shan Temple (“Dragon Mountain Temple”) is in this district. With the outbreak of SARS, the government ordered that this hospital be sealed off and that everyone who happened to be in the hospital at the time the police arrived, including staff, patients, and visitors, be quarantined for two weeks, plus a follow-on two weeks in a separate quarantine center. Over 1,000 people were affected. Shortly afterward there was another outbreak of SARS at a smaller hospital in the same district, the Taipei Jenchi Hospital, which was evacuated and the people were sent to other hospitals and quarantine centers.

At this point the government and the press began scrambling. The half-dozen or so local TV news stations began 24 hour SARS coverage as public panic came to a high pitch. Public schools were being closed along with offices and other buildings. Considering the electrified climate, we realized that if a member of the staff or a patron were found to be contagious while in the temple, the temple would be closed by the government and we would be subjected to a barrage of TV reporters and cameras looking for sensational material for their 24 hour SARS broadcasts. Therefore, we began taking precautions to avoid the associated sensation that would intrude on the sacredness of the temple.

At the initial wave of public panic, we asked the stake and district presidents in central and southern Taiwan to cancel all bus excursions to the temple. This action was an attempt to avoid over crowding in the temple. Also, we wanted to avoid being responsible for an outbreak of SARS in another part of the island. The area presidency asked members and the missionaries to not shake hands. Albeit awkward, this directive is being observed and the time honored “kung-shou” is taking its place.

Coinciding with the closing of public swimming pools and hot springs, we cancelled the use of the temple baptistry except for especially approved family file. Our baptism inventory is sufficient to keep the temple operating for approximately one year, so we don’t foresee this action interfering with the progression of other ordinances.

Recently, the government ordered that if there are more than 100 people in a building for over one hour at any given time, the body temperature of each individual must be taken before they enter the building. We have purchased digital thermometers and are prepared to do this whenever anticipated attendance will be 100 or more. If the situation continues to worsen, in order to protect our patrons, protect the image of the church, and practice good social responsibility, we will begin taking temperatures at all times. The government has also ordered that surgical masks me worn on the MRT (subway) and airplanes.

A.I.T., the institute that serves as the de facto American embassy in Taiwan, is allowing dependents and non-emergency staff to fly home at government expense — a step that the United States Embassy in Beijing took six weeks ago in response to the growing epidemic there.

As a means of prevention, we are disinfecting the temple several times each day, and have supplied hand disinfectant for patrons to use at the main door before entering the temple. Ample hand disinfectant is also available at various stations within the temple where sacred ordinances are performed. As continues to be the custom here, shoes are removed outside the door and carried to the shelves in the shoe room, so we do not have carpet contamination.

Although attendance is down, the temple is still operating at full schedule. Many patrons who have access to private automobiles are coming to the temple from distant areas of Taiwan and many of the local patrons continue their patterns of attendance. Patrons and workers express appreciation for the steps we are taking to keep the temple clean and disinfected so they can worship in relative safety. They truly love their temple.

Until further notice, some stake and district conferences in affected areas are being cancelled, as well as Sunday meetings in some wards and branches. Since the city of Taipei is the most affected area in Taiwan, many of the wards here are either holding sacrament meetings only or are canceling all Sunday meetings. Because the government is putting all travelers from Hong Kong and other areas in Asia into quarantine when they arrive at the international airport, general and area authorities are currently not traveling to Taiwan.

The news is filled with alarming stories of citizens resisting quarantine, doctors escaping from quarantined hospitals and being apprehended, entire blocks of high rise apartments being quarantined, a bride being separated from her new husband, a husband of two years being forcibly restrained from seeing his pregnant wife when she is in quarantine and subsequently on her death bed, etc.

There are also many uplifting stories of heroes such as the head nurse at the Hoping Hospital, who incidentally was LDS, becoming infected and dying while serving quarantined patients, groups of volunteers who willingly enter quarantined areas to provide basic services for the quarantined, knowing that they too will be quarantined and might become fatally infected, etc. (see news story)

New statistics show that the mortality rate of those our age who become infected with the SARS virus is fifty percent. Although we feel relatively safe in our assignment here, we are being cautious as we continue our full schedules. For example, this evening after the last session is started we will wear surgical masks while traveling by plane to Kaohsiung at the southern end of the island, where we will be speaking at three ward sacrament meetings tomorrow morning and early afternoon, then return to our home in Taipei. Although some members are now wearing surgical masks while speaking from the pulpit, this is just too strange and uncomfortable for us, so we chose to do otherwise.

Vic Walker 葛志浩 Send Email
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