50 tips for running in Senegal

Danielle dans la brousse

Danielle dans la brousse

Runner’s World recently ran an article on what you should wear to run. It even had a handy dandy calculator thingy that you could plug in the details of the weather where you are and the type of run and it would spit out what you should be wearing. I gave it a whirl with Dakar weather. It said shorts and a sports bra.

Yeah. No.

Senegal is different when it comes to running. Fortunately, exercise (even for women) is seen as a good thing here and is encouraged. But there are still some unique challenges and things to be aware of, whether you’re a newbie or experienced runner.

I asked some of my local runner buddies for their advice (and then pulled pictures from their Facebook pages without asking) and compiled the list below. Happy running!

Trevon in Ouakam

Trevon in Ouakam

1. Stick with it. With the heat, humidity, and most importantly the dew point levels being as high as they are, it is easy to want to quit and give up. Just keep telling yourself it will make you stronger. With consistency, your body will adapt.

2. Invest in nice running sunglasses and a viser to keep the sun out of your eyes/off your face. That sun is HOT :)

3. The dew point in Senegal is a killer. When planning your week’s runs, look at the upcoming forecast and the dew point. On days when the dew point will reach 79 or higher, try to use those as your rest days.

4. Find a place to run where you feel safe, but also don’t feel like a spectacle.

5. Run early mornings if possible.

Heat is fun, right?

Heat is fun, right?

6. On one of my first runs, I bought attaya and sugar at the buutik and gave them to the villa guards as I passed and said hello. They all remember me and watch out for me extra now.

7. For women, be mindful of what you wear — longer T-shirts and longer shorts. Yes, people are used to seeing women exercising, but to dress as you might in the US can make you more of a target and is less culturally sensitive.

8. Pay attention! Lol

9. Remember to drink LOTS of water. It is hotter AND much more humid than pretty much anywhere you have run before.

10. Guys should always wear a shirt; even though some toubabs don’t wear one. It’s just inappropriate and abnormal not to.

Saint-Louis Jubilee Run

Saint-Louis Jubilee Run

11. Carry a drop wallet, a small wallet with a couple thousand franc in it. If someone tries to come after you, drop the wallet as a decoy and then RUN.

12. For running in the races in Dakar, do NOT to expect it to be like races anywhere else. They start late, are not very organized, it is easy to get lost on the routes, but it is STILL so worth the experience.

13. Wear baggy shorts, not tight fitting for cultural reasons, and also stay aware of your surroundings.

14. The best time to run is Sunday morning at 7.

15. It’s probably safe to run on your own, but running with a group gives that piece of mind, and you’ll perhaps venture into neighborhoods that are off the beaten path. We run up through Ouakam, and have seen a number of the different (read: uniquely Senegal) things while on a run.

Fun for the whole family!

Fun for the whole family!

16. In Senegal, running is not a solo sport. You may be joined by little kids and cheered on or encouraged by on-lookers you pass. Give them the ‘thumbs up-thanks’ and keep going!

17. Do not run at night on the Corniche.

18. Running outside is ALWAYS better than a treadmill. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

19. You can teach your body to work more efficiently in the heat, but it may take some time. Well worth it though.

20. Senegalese runners have have told me to be off the Corniche road in Dakar before dark, by 7pm.

Brighter = Better

Brighter = Better

21. Do not run in cotton. When cotton gets wet (which it will) it will become heavy and cling to your body. Always run in dry-fit materials.

22. A nice place to run outside of Dakar is Bargny, out towards Diamniadio.

23. It helps to run with a group, especially if you’re a female.

24. A handheld water bottle is a must. Nathan makes a great one with a strap that makes it effortless to carry, and it comes with a zippered pouch to hold your phone and a little emergency CFA. Portable water is totally necessary in a hot land with questionable street water!

25. In rural towns, women can run in loose fitting t-shirts and capris. Below the knee, cover your butt and shoulders.

Dakar Jungle Run

Dakar Jungle Run

26. Try not to get killed. Hehe.

27. The nicest place to run is the Petite Corniche (ocean road) in Almadies.

28. You can buy running clothes at the Monday market by the Orange stadium. I wouldn’t buy socks or shoes there, but shorts, capris and tops.

29. Watch your feet! We’ve had a lot of tripping incidents, twisted ankles, broken toes (they were pre-fractured so not technically the fault of running). But there is a lot of really interesting things you see all around you, too, so you have to look around, too.

30. Be sure to pre-hydrate 15 minutes before running and then drink every half hour.

The Corniche, a favorite stretch for Dakar runners

The Corniche, a favorite stretch for Dakar runners

31. We run early morning, so we definitely need our flashlights.

32. Clothing that would normally be considered too fitted/short may be more acceptable when you are doing sports.

33. Look at the heat from the positive side – you sweat a lot easier and that makes you feel like you’re working out a lot harder.  :)

34. The one thing you really need to run here is to be alert because inevitably you’ll be splashed or end up behind some vehicle or people or a bus will cut over right in front of you, or whatever. It’s not really a place you can run and zone out.

35. There’s a French running club (Les caimans) and also Dakar Hash Harriers.

Ready, set...

Ready, set…

36. Take a friend with you when you go. That way you have company as well as safety in numbers.

37. Be sure to take in the beauty of where you’re running, especially if you’re near the corniche. This is a beautiful place; take a minute to take it all in!

38. Put 1000 franc bill in your shoe – just in case.

39. Focus on heart rate, not speed or distance.

40. Specifically on the weekends (Saturday morning and Sunday morning) I enjoy running on the VDN. It is always very clam and clear, like having Dakar to yourself… while the Corniche is way too packed on the weekends.

What humidity?

What humidity? (This Girl convinced me that running in Senegal could be fun. Thank you, Rachael!)

41. Choose loose-fitting clothing that cover shoulders, mid-section and thighs.

42. If you’re in an area where women don’t exercise in public much, when possible, run early in the day when less people are out.

43. My favorite place to run is on the Corniche…big surprise! Starting from one either end and running to La pointe des Almadies is always a good long run.

44. If you need to buy running clothes locally, ask where to buy “un jogging”, which is the term for outfits that the girls wear here for gym classes.

45. Running on the VDN, away from downtown, to Diamalaye (Yoff cemetary) brings you right onto the beach where tons of people go to exercise. There are also restaurants on the beach, etc.

Dakar Marathon Races... where distance is approximate. ;)

Dakar Marathon Races… where distance is approximate. ;)

46. Try to run before sunrise or after sundown.

47. Running in Dakar’s heat and humidity can be rough but the increases the physical stress on the body increases the intensity of the run, which results in a higher heart rate. So it’s not all bad news when it gets hot.

48. For guys, regular running shorts are fine (Dakar has become Western enough for short-shorts, haha), dry-fit apparel is a definite plus all year around.

49. Running with an iPod is generally safe.

50. Greeting while running is not necessary, however acknowledging the Talibe boys while running at least on a semi-consistent basis is always awesome. They eventually see you as a friend who doesn’t just ignore them. They might still ask you for money every once in a blue moon but more importantly, they actually look forward to seeing everyday, which normally brightens their little mornings.

A favorite route in Saint-Louis

A favorite route in Saint-Louis

Parenting wisdom

1. The cape

Picture this. You’re in a public place, say the grocery store, and a little boy with crazy hair is running around punching his fist in the air saying, “I crash you! You crashed now!” You would probably wonder who this kid’s parents are… and not in the good sense.

Now picture the same scenario, but the kid is wearing a wax print superhero cape and mask. The fist punching is an imaginary laser beam he uses to destroy (aka ‘crash’) bad guys.


Suddenly the little boy went from wild to adorable, right? It’s not a magical cape, but it does work wonders. And that, my friends, is why I allow my son to wear his cape to church anytime he wants to.

2. The greens

I am certainly not the first mom to put spinach in smoothies. But I did want to pass on a little Dakar-specific advice here. Skip the fibrous fresh spinach the vegetable vendors have, unless you’re doing a craft that involves making your own rope. In the freezer section of the big grocery stores you can find three kinds of spinach: en branches (as whole leaves), hachés à la crème (chopped and in cream) and hachés. Buy the last one, épinards hachés.

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One cube of that finely chopped spinach added to your smoothie du jour is a great way to get in a green veggie – for both kiddo and mommo.

3. The Yelling Spot

If you feel the need to yell while you’re at our place, there’s a spot on the balcony for that. It’s called the Yelling Spot. Standing there, you may yell as loud and as long as you want. But once you leave that spot, the yelling needs to stop.

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This little idea works pretty well, especially when we go out there occasionally to yell just for fun. Keeping it fun also means he has a safe place to let out some energy and emotion rather than being ‘sent to the Yelling Spot’ as a punishment for being too loud indoors.

4. When they are the hardest to love is when they need my love the most.

I probably read this on Pinterest. Sounds like a Pinterest-y type of thing, no? But it’s also both true and helpful.

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When he’s fussing or crying or wailing or pounding his little fists, that’s when he most needs to know that he is loved. God does the same for me. Even when I am at my most defiant or angry or fearful, He shows me unconditional love.

5. Don’t be the first to let go.

This one goes hand-in-hand with the Pinterest wisdom above. When hugging a child, don’t ever let go first. You never know how much they might need that affirmation in that moment.

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I’m amazed by how many times my instinct is to hug, pat-pat, then release. But when I keep holding, he holds on for much longer than I’d expect.

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Someday I know I’ll give anything for one of his hugs, while he’s wearing his cape and drinking a green smoothie as we stand at the yelling spot and holler with all our might.

Baby got back…

How to carry a baby on your back in Senegalese style!

Carrying 6-week-old bébé Ndeye on my back at Kermel market

Carrying 6-week-old bébé Ndeye on my back at Kermel market

Get a piece of cloth that’s a little longer than your arm span in length (so 7 feet or so) and from your armpit to your knees in width.  Pareo/sarong wraps, large scarves or soft cotton sheets work well since the fabric is lightweight.

Pape mbott

Carrying Pape on my back a couple years ago. (I know. They’re twins.)

For beginners, have a friend put the baby on your back with its neck level with your armpits. Have your friend turn baby’s head gently either left or right.

Baby’s arms should be down by her sides if you want her to sleep.

Place the cloth covering the baby and hold one top corner in each hand (like wrapping a towel around yourself). The top edge should be at baby’s neck and covering arms so that just her head is showing. Tie the two top corners tightly around your chest. Don’t be afraid to make it snug! It’ll be more comfortable for both you and bébé.

Using a pareo wrap I bought in Kenya in 1998

Using a pareo wrap I bought in Kenya in 1998

Gently pull baby’s legs out so that one foot sits on each of your hips. Pull the cloth so that it is tight under baby’s tush and tuck a little under to make a seat for her. Let baby’s feet stick out.

Tie two lower corners of the fabric like you did the top ones, lifting up to chest level as you do so the baby is well supported and not droopy.

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Ready to ride!

A tighter tie will be more comfortable for both mom and baby. Once baby is secure, get moving. Walking or bouncing will help calm the baby, and sooner than you might think…. Zzzzz…

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 1.59.27 PM

…or nap.


What age should babies be before carrying on your back?
Around two or three months. The sooner you start, the faster your baby will get used to it and start relaxing and loving it.

What if my baby cries right away?
Get moving. I’ve found walking works better than bouncing in place. (I do a couple laps of the living room.) If you’re just starting off, it make take a couple tries. Walk with your baby on your back 5-10 minutes. If she calms down, just go about whatever you need to do. If she doesn’t, try again tomorrow. By the third or fourth time, it should noticeably better. By the tenth you’ll be wondering why on Earth anyone ever uses a stroller unless they are jogging. ;)

When can I start carrying with arms out?
Once they are older (six months) and have really good control, you can carry them with arms out and the cloth under their armpits. This is for awake time. For sleeping, arms go in.

How do I get my baby back there by myself?

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 1.57.59 PM

Solo loading ;)

Once you’re at ease with tying and your baby has head control, you can try putting your baby on solo. Both options can be a bit scary at first, so do them with a spotter until you’re comfortable.
Option A : hold baby seated on your hip then scoot her around as you bend over at the waist.
Option B: hold baby out in front of you with your thumbs hooked under her armpits. Lift her up and over your head and onto your back.

Did I miss anything?

Ebola: speaking out against fear

Last Saturday morning, my friend Julie and I went running. Not surprisingly, the topic du jour as we trotted along was the recently confirmed first case of Ebola in Senegal. While she and I both grew up in Africa as MKs, both are from the Atlanta area in the US and both moved to Senegal with our families a couple years ago… The similarities kind of grind to a halt when you Google her and see the amazing work she does fighting diseases as a medical epidemiologist.

Julie is a resident adviser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Julie is a resident adviser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Below is an update she wrote on the current situation in Senegal and what we can expect in the future, as well as what we can do to help.

On August 29, Senegal confirmed a case of Ebola in a Guinean student who had come to Dakar from Guinea following the funeral of his brother, who had died of Ebola. In the 10 days since, the Senegalese government has responded very actively, identifying all his household contacts and health care workers who had come into contact with him, asking them to stay at home, and having teams visit each contact twice daily to monitor for development of symptoms. They have put together a Crisis Management Committee and numerous sub-commissions all charged with various aspects of the response that meet daily, and have been meeting with external financial and technical partners as well to mobilize resources and coordination.

The World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, and numerous other organizations are supporting Senegal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sent a team to support the Ministry of Health. All are very impressed by the response of the Senegalese government and believe Senegal is in a good position to handle the threat of Ebola well.

Things to know about Ebola:

1) Symptoms include high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, profound weakness, and general pain.

2) People who are not symptomatic are not infectious.

3) If a person who is ill with Ebola is identified and given supportive care early on, it increases the chances of survival.

4) If the contacts of a person with Ebola are all identified and followed carefully, and isolated at the first sign of symptoms, the chance of it spreading further are near zero.

As long as there is Ebola in surrounding countries, there will very likely be more imported cases of Ebola in Senegal. This is not a failure. Success is identifying, isolating, and caring for people with Ebola, identifying and following all their contacts, and preventing transmission beyond their immediate contacts. Ebola gets out of control when people are scared, lie about their contacts, or refuse to allow teams to visit them daily (or flee).

We need to speak out against fear, and to help people understand that it’s so important to tell health care workers if there are any contacts that may have had Ebola or any travel to an affected country in the past three weeks.

Julie Thwing MD
CDC Senegal

Please join us in praying against fear, for people to tell the truth about their travel and contacts, for wisdom and stamina for health workers, for good communication and coordination for all the partners in this fight, and for miraculous blocking of infection. Thank you.

(And thank you, Julie!)

5 things not to say to me during hot season

“Oh, it gets that hot here too.”
Yes, it probably does. Dakar’s highs are generally only in the upper 90s. But factor in the humidity and you’re looking at a RealFeel of well over 100 every day. For three months or more. And very, very few places with AC. But plenty of places with power and water cuts.

But yes, it probably does get to the upper 90s where you live too.

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“I wish I could go to the beach every day.”
It’s true. We have a gorgeous ocean view. (Possibly the best kind of view even because being 500m from the coast means we don’t see the trash or smell the fish.) But unless you just lo-o-ove sweating, going to the beach or pool is actually more of a cool weather activity around here.

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“You look hot.”
Unless this is the double T version and said by my husband… there is no need to state the obvious. We all look hot.

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“It’ll cool down soon.”
No ma’am, it won’t. As temperatures in the US and Europe start to fall (pardon the pun) ours are just warming up (bada-boom!).

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“Pumpkin Spice Latte.”
Just don’t. It’s bordering on cruel. And while you’re at it, avoid mentioning dressing in layers, any recipes that require baking, accessorizing with a scarf and the word ‘crisp’.

Inspiration for this post brought to you by a horribly long power cut today. My mood should improve as soon as the electricity starts flowing again and I can open the freezer for some ice and turn on the water pump for a shower.

The story behind our story.

I met my husband about twelve years ago and just a mile down the road. We were here to work as public health instructors in villages.

I think this is the first picture of us, January 2004. We were working with Nebeday leaves for health lessons.

I think this is the first picture of us, January 2004. We were working with Nebeday leaves for health lessons.

He had just arrived in Senegal, fresh off the boat plane that very morning. I had been here for a couple months already and knew the ropes a bit so was going to help him with orientation. (This is the part where he interrupts à la When Harry Met Sally and tells the story of how I almost got him pick-pocketed on day one. To which I reply, “Yeah, almost. Not all the way.”)

Anyway… In the time it took for him to walk down the stairs and across the parking lot to where I was standing and say hi, I decided he was:
a) not my type (although did immediately peg him as the kind of guy my mom would have chosen for me to marry).
b) out of my league anyway.

First Tabaski, celebrated with friends in Yoff

First Tabaski, celebrated with friends in Yoff

Perhaps one factor in this quick decision was that the ratio of guys to girls in this particular program for recent college graduates going to West Africa was about 1 to 22. I’m not even kidding. Those would have been my odds, had I decided to chase after him.

Which I didn’t.

I instead decided to spend the next two years finding him a wife because, as I’d first picked up on and was confirmed over and over… this guy was one of the good ones. The really good ones. So every volunteer team or batch of newbies that came over, I was scouring for the cream of the crop to set him up with.

Would you believe my persistent match-making never worked?

Dinner with friends, who lived about a mile from where we live now.

Dinner with friends, who lived about a mile from where we live now.

Over the next two years, we spent a lot of time arguing and disagreeing (terms such as “cat and dog” and “brother and sister” were sometimes used to describe our relationship) as we worked together.

We even survived Wolof language study together. I say ‘survived’ because I am one of those who does what she’s told and rolls her eyes at the ones who don’t and slow everyone else down. He, on the other hand, is the one who got tired of doing the same old language exercises in class every day so when the teacher asked him to say in Wolof what he did that morning, he replied in Wolof saying, “I’ve already told you that. Why don’t you ask me what I’m going to do tomorrow or next week so we can learn verb tenses.” Sigh. Eye roll.

Day-trip out to Ile de la Madeleine

Day-trip out to Ile de la Madeleine

Working together actually meant working apart. We were in villages about four hours away from each other, but we’d get together with friends and teammates in Dakar about once a month or to coordinate trips for volunteer medical teams. Occasionally my roommate and I would go up to his village or he would come to ours. I remember one time when he was going to be passing through ours, I pulled out the ingredients to make banana bread the day before. When my roommate asked what I was doing, I told her that Cheikh was coming to town and we always made him banana bread because it was his favorite. I distinctly remember her looking at my like I had two heads and mumbling something about, “Maybe you make him banana bread…”

Up in Saint-Louis with my roommate and Pape Dieye, after whom our son is named

Up in Saint-Louis with my roommate and Pape Dieye, after whom our son is named

So yes, as time went by… we became friends. Good friends. The kind that share the ugly stuff, the fears, the dreams and the really ugly stuff. It didn’t matter because he wasn’t my type anyway, remember? And he certainly wasn’t interested in me… or so I thought.

But that roommate that mumbled at me saw something we didn’t. Actually, a lot of people saw something we didn’t. Like our supervisor’s wife. And Cheikh’s sister in America who had never met me in person, but we emailed often. That’s another little part of the story. Since he didn’t have internet access and didn’t take pictures, I would often email his mom and sister in the US and send them pictures of his life in Senegal. So yeah, they saw something too.

Sporting our matching Senegal jerseys

Sporting our matching Senegal jerseys

When the time came for him to go back to the US at the end of his term, one of his last stops was my village. We were hosting a team of volunteers at the time so things were pretty busy. But that same roommate who mumbled at me pulled me aside and told me I needed to go talk to Cheikh. According to her, we needed to get some things worked out and in the open before he left. I had no idea what she was talking about. I mean I was operating at such a level of cluelessness that I invited one of the volunteers to come hang out with Cheikh and me on the roof while we talked. Insightful Roommate prevented that from happening. (Thank you, Jana!)

So for hours that night, we talked. Up on the roof, listening to waves, we talked about the most unromantic, but important topics under the sun stars. We talked about his upcoming move to France, where he’d been accepted into a six-year program, but had no idea how he’d pay for it or live. We talked about what he wanted in a wife. Well… to be more accurate, I babbled on and on about what I thought he needed in a wife. ;) He remained thoroughly uninterested in my attempts to marry him off.

One of his last nights in Dakar

One of his last nights in Dakar

The next night, I drove him to the airport, hugged him goodbye and watched him walk away with his one backpack. And then I sobbed the whole way home. But I had no idea why.

Ten days later, he called my cell phone. (Still phenomenally clueless, I wondered why he called my number rather than my roommate’s if he wanted to talk to us.)

An hour later, I hung up the phone with the room spinning uncontrollably and no words forming able my mouth. He’d asked me to marry him.
Well. Kind of. Sort of. Ish.

What he actually asked was if I would pray about us starting a relationship. In his mind we could at least ‘date’ over the phone until I came back to the US, then in-person for the summer maybe and he could come back at Christmas break and we’d get engaged and then we’d get married the following summer.

He didn’t say any of this, of course. I mean, at the time, I was actually dating someone else even. But I knew Cheikh and I knew his heart and I knew how he thought.

So I called him back three days later and said I would marry him, even though he never asked me. I knew that’s what he meant and I knew before even hanging up the phone on that wordless evening that my answer to him was and always would be yes.

The day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal

The day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal

Just to make things exciting and a little unorthodox, we decided to get married even faster than the one-year dating/engagement/wedding timeline he’d never actually laid out for me. We decided on a wedding at my church in Georgia six months later at Christmas and that I’d move to France with him then. (Like three days after the wedding.) But in order to move to France, I needed a visa as his wife. And for that visa, I needed a new passport and a marriage license.

Our wedding, in the living room. My dad did the talking and mom took the pictures.

Our wedding, in the living room. My dad did the talking and mom took the pictures.

Well, lucky for us, my dad is an ordained minister and could marry us right away. So a month and a half after that phone call and the day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal, we got married at around 9pm in the living room of my parents’ house, with me wearing shorts and t-shirts.

On September 1st, 2004. Ten years ago.

Just the beginning...

Just the beginning…

My answer to you, Cheikh, was and always will be… yes.

Ebola in Senegal and what it means for me

PicMonkey Collage

A couple hours ago, the Health Minister confirmed the first Ebola case in Senegal. To be honest, I’m still processing what this could mean and am not ready to go into that right now. There are just too many unknowns.

As I was receiving info left, right and center about the patient and whether or not the virus had been confirmed and how many days he’d been in Dakar, refreshing my Twitter feed and BBC’s webpage and firing off text messages and emails… my phone beeped and I saw this short reply from my husband:

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That perspective was exactly what I needed and am committing to.

It helped when a couple hours later I received an email from an expat friend who lives with his family in Guinea, which has been hit hard by this outbreak. He said that when Ebola was first announced, it was a great concern as there were so many unknowns. And of course, it is still a great concern in that many are dying. But through their experiences they have seen that it is very difficult for people to get Ebola unless they work with patients who are sick with Ebola or with dead bodies.

I also received this reminder in an email from a friend who is involved in medical work locally: “Fear is the enemy and prayer is a great weapon!”

These messages led me to do two things:

1. Resist the urges to bleach down every surface or start packing bags or feel mom-guilt for choosing to raise my kids in Africa or all the other panicky things I start thinking and feeling.

2. To pray for the patients and medical workers who are exposed to the virus. May God protect them and heal them.

Just for info…
Yesterday the WHO issued a roadmap to scale up international response to the outbreak. It aims to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6-9 months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread.

Where can I get updated news?
International SOS is an excellent site for updates and information about the outbreak.


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