Southwest Orange | by Troy Herring, Sports Editor | July 15, 2020
Before the coronavirus pandemic made waves and induced chaos in the United States, it was spreading across China.
As sickness and death ran rampant, sisters Fanghai “Helen” Yu and Fangwen “Wendy” Yu watched in horror as COVID-19 quickly shut down their country. They were 8,000 miles away from their home of Shanghai — what could they do?
“On Jan. 18, the coronavirus started to spread from my home in China and seeing the case numbers soaring and everything, and we could do nothing except for hope for the best,” Wendy Yu said. “Also there was a lack of information that we could get from China, and we could not really know a lot about it. That made us feel very helpless.”
It wouldn’t take long for the sisters — both rising sophomores at Windermere Prep — to find the answer to that question.
By March, the virus was spreading in the United States, and it was then that the sisters decided to start up an information-gathering website that could help guide people to credible resources in regard to COVID-19 news.
“Our school closed — our normal life was affected dramatically,” Wendy Yu said. “So we can’t go out to school and go out for dining or shopping. A lot of people have died, and millions have suffered in pain from this terrible disease.
“My sister and I really panicked — misinformation and misguidance left us very confused and anxious, too,” she said. “We as twin sisters often talk to each other about our feelings. … We thought that we need to know the truth and how to prepare, and to help others with the right information to prevent them from getting infected.”
And with school being out for summer, what better time is there to start on a project than now, Helen Yu asked.
“Although it is a time we cannot go out — it’s kind of boring — but we think this is also a good time to do a lot of things,” Helen Yu said. “During this time we don’t have much work to do, and it is a time we can really think and really contribute to our community.”
GETTING THINGS GOING
Early on in the project, the sisters used the free website creator Weebly, but as luck would have it — after speaking with friends and parents — they met a volunteer who helped them build up an independent website, covid19oc.com.
After a month of work, the sisters had the website’s foundation solidified. The next step was recruiting friends who would be interested in getting the project off the ground. The Yu sisters found the help they needed in friends Caiyan “Luisa” Luo, Jasmine Goyarrola and Xinyu “Yuki” Shen — all sophomores at Windermere Prep, and each offered up her own unique talents to the site.
“One of the significant (skills) that they saw that I had was that I spoke Spanish, (because) a lot of the community in Florida speaks Spanish,” said Goyarrola, who has an interest in medicine. “I helped a lot with translations on the website. I’m also very knowledgeable in social media, so I managed the Instagram.”
Meanwhile, Luo, an active member of the community, became a de facto marketing machine, while Shen did research and whatever she could do to help.
Throughout the entire process, the group met regularly for hourlong Zoom sessions to discuss ideas for content and layout of the website. They settled on six sections: the homepage, COVID-19 info, news, articles, InstaLife and Keep Active.
The homepage is loaded with valuable information, ranging from a map featuring Orange County testing sites to a Florida hospital-bed census. The information is collected and updated daily, and the statistics used are from Orange County’s website.
In the news and articles sections, the group continues to highlight important information regarding the ongoing pandemic — there’s even a section of news entirely in Chinese.
But one of the most popular sections among the group is the InstaLife page — which is divided into subsections such as cooking and fine art — that gives the group and others a chance to offer their life experiences like one would do on Instagram.
“For one month, we just worked on the InstaLife section, because that’s the one you want to keep active and keep a lot of participation inside the section,” Luo said. “I talked with my friends and gathered a lot of people … to post something on this part just to give it more of a variety of content.”
KEEPING THE PUBLIC INFORMED
Since the website launched in March, the group has seen more than 8,300 visitors.
It’s a number the group is proud of, but getting people to the website has been the biggest challenge they have faced collectively, Goyarrola said.
But after sending out email after email to local organizations and other members of the community, the group found its biggest accomplishment to date when Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien responded to an email the group had sent. What followed was the town of Windermere adding the website to its list of COVID-19-related sources July 6.
Although the group already has accomplished a few goals, there are plenty more that need to be worked toward in the future, Wendy Yu said.
“Our next goal is just to transfer this website-based platform to a health-related website with pandemic information from all around the world, but also retain the interactive part — like the InstaLife part,” Wendy Yu said. “And our second goal is to help families know how to deal with this problem and stay healthy, because we want to serve our community better.”