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Journalist Recounts Nearly A Month Under Coronavirus Quarantine

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with the Wall Street Journal‘s Stephanie Yang about her time in coronavirus quarantine — first in China for 11 days, then at U.S. military bases for another 14 days.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Stephanie Yang has spent most of the past month under quarantine – first in Hubei province, China, for 11 days and now at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California for two weeks. Yang is a Wall Street Journal reporter normally based in Beijing. She was headed to Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, when the government walled it off to outsiders. She then got stuck in a neighboring city, which then got walled off, too.

STEPHANIE YANG: Basically, outsiders that had come into the city were asked to quarantine in the hotel for 14 days. And then at one point, it became even more strict, and we weren’t allowed to leave our rooms. Then we got word that, you know, even after the 14 days were up, we would be able to leave our rooms but not the hotel.

KELLY: Oh, wow. So this could’ve gone on a long – you could still be there, basically…

YANG: Right. Right. So basically…

KELLY: …Had the Chinese government had its way. Yeah.

YANG: Right. So basically, we were faced with this decision. You know, someone from the foreign affairs office for the city government told us, the only way for you out is if you get on that U.S. evacuation flight chartered by the State Department. And so at a certain point, it kind of became a choice between, OK, two-week quarantine in the U.S. or indefinite quarantine in Hubei, China. And so that’s when we decided that we needed to get on that last evacuation flight out.

KELLY: And before I ask you about the flight, tell me about conditions under quarantine in China. Were you being closely monitored by the government?

YANG: Yeah. So it became standard to check the hotel guests’ temperature once every four hours. For us, you know, that became even more stringent when they thought we might be showing symptoms of a fever. At the most extreme, they were checking our temperature once every 90 minutes.

KELLY: Wow.

YANG: And – yeah. At the very beginning, you know, we wanted to talk to some of the other guests, interview them, get a sense of what they were doing during their quarantine. And the hotel was also not very happy with us about that. They told all the guests, basically, don’t interact with other guests for your own safety.

KELLY: So you do end up one of the 800 or so people that the State Department has evacuated from Hubei province. Compare the experience of being quarantined in California versus quarantined in Hubei province.

YANG: So today, I was speaking with my editor, and he said, oh, it seems like you guys are enjoying your quarantine, actually. And I told him, well, it’s hard not to enjoy it compared to, you know, that hotel in Hubei, basically because the epidemic isn’t as rampant here. So there’s less of this paranoia that we encountered within China. People are, you know, staying away from others. They’re staying indoors. And here, we get to go outside. We get to talk to other people. So I would say it’s definitely a step up.

KELLY: I know as a reporter, you never want to be the story. But I have to ask – have you been scared at moments during this, worried that you would come down with coronavirus or something else might happen?

YANG: We were actually very, very safe from infection in our hotel room, but I would say the scariest moment for us was actually when the hotel in China thought that we were infected. So basically, you know, they were asking for our temperatures regularly throughout the day. And so at one point, we started showing above 37 degrees Celsius, which they considered a low fever. And so even though we had no other symptoms and we insisted we felt fine, they said, you know, if your temperature doesn’t go down, we’re going to have to call you an ambulance and take you to the hospital. And if you’re not sick, the hospital is basically the most dangerous place you can be because that’s where all the sick people are.

And so it was a moment in which this risk that we hadn’t really anticipated hit us. And luckily, they backed off. And so we didn’t actually have to end up confronting that scenario.

KELLY: Your understanding is you have about a week left in quarantine there in California. Have you given thought to what’s next? Will you try to go back to China and keep reporting from there?

YANG: Yes. I mean, I want to get back to China as soon as possible. I don’t know exactly what that path’s going to look like because a lot of flights, you know, between the U.S. and China have been canceled. And on top of that, my mom called me last night and said, you know, if you’re going back to Beijing, they might quarantine you again because you’re coming from outside the city.

KELLY: Which, as a reporter, is the very last thing you want to do, it sounds like.

YANG: Right. Right.

KELLY: Stephanie Yang, thank you very much for your time.

YANG: Great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

KELLY: She is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal usually based in China but right now in quarantine on a military base in Southern California.

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