Demrie Alonzo

Shelby's Demrie Alonzo and son are in China, and observing first-hand that nation's flu crisis.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Demrie Alonza submitted this first-person experience from China on Monday morning to Richland Source.

My son and I came from Shelby to Shandong Province, China in August of 2019. This would be the experience of a lifetime for both of us. Having taught Chinese children English online for over two years, I wanted to go a step further and actually teach in China.

My son, age 15, graduated the eighth grade from the Richland School of Academic Arts, last year. He would do his first year of high school in China.

We knew it would be hard, but we had no idea just how hard it would get. The first four months were rough.

The school I worked for lied about our accommodations. They told us we would have a “two-bedroom apartment” which turned out to be dorm rooms down the hall from one another. The rooms were very small, with little space to move around, and no windows to look outside. There were students on our floor, so we had to be quiet all the time.

In early January, I paid for us to move to an apartment. We were only in it six days before our Chinese New Year vacation began on Jan. 18. We went to Beijing and got to see the major sights, such as The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace, The Forbidden City, and much more.

Around Day Three of our trip we started hearing about this virus that was spreading in the lower part of China, over 800 miles away. I wasn’t worried.

On Day Four of our trip, my school sent out a message to all of the foreign teachers that we were to “remain in place and indoors.” Since we were staying in an AIRBNB, we could not stay there past our planned nine days. I was able to cancel our train tickets back to our province on Sunday and reschedule for Saturday, which was the earliest I could get tickets to go back.

We spent our last two days in Beijing in our holiday apartment as all of the major sights were now being closed just days after we visited. We took a train back to Weifang in Shandong Province and were met with fully suited medical teams taking everyone’s temperature before allowing us to leave the train station.

Things seemed normal back in our 1.7 million-population-city. Due to the holiday, it was quiet anyway, but shops were open, and it was business as usual.

A few days after getting back, I went to the store and when I returned, a medical person at our apartment complex took my temperature before allowing me back into the complex.

A few days after that, the buses and taxis stopped running. In China they have a service like Uber that most foreigners use call DiDi. I was still able to take DiDi to get to and from the distant supermarket.

Two days later, DiDi stopped running. My Chinese co-teacher contacted me and said we needed to go to the grocery store and get two weeks’ worth of supplies. My son and I walked to the grocery store but there was no way we would carry our groceries back to our apartment, so my co-teacher and her husband picked us up in their car and took us back.

She told me that she and her family had been under a 14-day quarantine in their apartment because her husband had been to the epicenter of Wuhan. She looked tired and scared. At the gate to our complex, they were told they could not help us carry groceries to our apartment. 

Two days later, I went downstairs to one of my favorite produce stores to discover that ALL shops were closed. Nothing was open. There were no people out. The Chinese New Year was officially over yet the normally crowded and loud streets remained completely silent.

Of course, we were watching the news, where the epicenter of the outbreak, in Wuhan, was over 500 miles from us, but the virus was spreading.

Our city went on complete lockdown two days ago as the virus is now here. We were told that we can only go out every third day, and only one of us can go.

My school kept pushing out our start date for the second semester by each week, but finally yesterday we were told that school would not start in the month of February and to wait for further instructions regarding March.

We are going into our third week of being isolated in our apartment. We are getting lots of information and misinformation. Some of our foreign teachers, who went to their home countries for the holiday, have been unable to return. Others were able to leave to go back to their native countries before the flights were shut down.

My son and I are waiting it out, hoping things improve soon. I’ve talked to our American Embassy and they’ve told us they are only evacuating people from the epicenter at this time, but I am on an email list of updates.

The virus has killed over 800 people in just a few weeks. There are more than 50,000 infected. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories mixed in with facts, but it’s hard to decipher them sometimes.

With the unexpected death of the 34-year-old doctor who was the first whistleblower of the virus, and who was arrested and had to sign a document saying he was spreading rumors, China is restless.

The young people are revolting against the government. I wonder if this could be the beginning of a new revolution for China.

The Chinese people are gracious and kind, but very secretive. I keep getting notices from the local government to “inform the local police” if I suspect a neighbor of being sick. People are avoiding one another. Everyone is terrified.

Today I begin teaching my 10th and 11th grade classes online, a last-minute decision that was ordered by the government. Between that and my online courses that I already do, I am plenty busy. My son has started his online academy classes again, so things feel a little bit back to normal, but now that we cannot even go for a walk outside, it’s suffocating.

I wanted to share this back home. Please be thinking of my son and I as we navigate a country where we are strangers, and a deadly virus that frightens us daily.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

By Reed Richmond of Richland Public Health

As of Feb. 10:

40,195 cases in China with 909 deaths. 74% of those deaths are in Wuhan where the virus originated. The case- fatality rate there is 4.9% due primarily to a lack of hospital beds.

Of those who have died of the virus in China, males account for two-thirds and females one-third. Over 80% of the fatalities are over 60 years of age while more than 75% had at least one underlying illness. The fatality rate in China outside of Hubei Province is 0.16%.

There are 578 cases in 28 other countries (including the 12 cases in the US in five states).

There has been one death so far outside of the Chinese mainland (in the Philippines).

In the U.S., the CDC is currently investigating 76 cases. Number of states with patients under investigation (PUI) is 36.

Some good news: 3,511 people who were diagnosed with coronavirus have recovered, including three in the U.S. The CDC has or is testing 337 people in the US. 225 have tested negative.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. I will send updates as I know them, especially anything concerning Ohio and most especially Richland County.

Timeline:

Dec. 31, 2019: the World Health Organization was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City (population of 11 million), Hubei Province of China. The virus did not match any other known virus.

Jan. 7, 2020: Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus. The new virus is a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as SARS and MERS. This new virus is named “2019-nCoV.”

Jan. 17, 2020: The United States starts screening travelers arriving from Wuhan, China

Jan. 21, 2020: First case in the United States is reported in Washington state.

Jan. 24, 2020: Chinese authorities quarantine five cities in the Hubei Province which has a population of 58.5 million.

Jan. 27, 2020: The number of cases of coronavirus exceeds those from the SARS outbreak in 2002-03 which caused 800 deaths.

Jan. 28, 2020: Two students at Miami University (Ohio) are isolated after one reported to the student health center feeling ill. Both had travelled to China. Samples are sent to the CDC for testing (Case under investigation).

Jan. 29, 2020: First person to person case reported in the US (Chicago)

Jan. 30, 2020: WHO declares coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Jan. 31, 2020: The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for China: do not travel to China due to 2019-nCoV.

Feb. 2, 2020: The two students at Miami University (Ohio) that were cases under investigation tested negative. At this time there are no cases under investigation in Ohio.

Feb. 6, 2020: Many cases of coronavirus among passengers quarantined on a cruise line at port in Hong Kong. Another cruise line that was quarantined had no cases.

Feb. 9, 2020: Coronavirus deaths surpass that of 2014 SARS (800).

Best sources for information remain cdc.gov and odh.ohio.gov/coronavirus

The following information is from the Ohio Department of Health (updated Feb. 5)

If you traveled to affected areas outside the U.S. where 2019-nCoV outbreaks have been identified (e.g. Wuhan, China) and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:

Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.

Avoid contact with others.

Not travel while sick.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

What happens if a case is reported?

A case or suspected case of 2019-nCoV is reported to a local health department.

The local health department alerts the ODH.

ODH reports to the CDC.

Currently, testing for this virus must take place at CDC.

What can you do to protect yourself?

To help prevent infection with 2019-nCoV, take the precautions you normally would during cold and flu season:

Frequently wash your hands for 20 seconds or more with soapy water. If unavailable, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Stay home while you are sick (except to visit a health care professional) and avoid close contact with others.

Keep sick children home from school or child care.

Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

Get adequate sleep and eat well-balanced meals to ensure a healthy immune system.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What is public health doing to protect Ohioans?

Ohio’s public health system includes a team of local and state partners who perform daily monitoring of reportable diseases, including 2019-nCoV (educating about what public health does).

ODH is monitoring this situation, in lockstep with the CDC, and will be ready to respond if a case should be reported in Ohio.

CDC considers US risk low at this time

We continue to work closely with our colleagues throughout the state 24/7 to share the most up-to-date information and guidance. These partners include the Governor Mike DeWine’s office, the Ohio Department of Health, local health departments, providers, colleges and universities, K-12 education, and community partners. The Ohio Department of Health website is being updated continuously.

Several fact sheets and other informational documents have been prepared and collected by ODH, and media, stakeholders, and the public can access them at the ODH website at www.odh.ohio.gov/coronavirus. As this is a rapidly changing situation, this is the best way to get the most up-to-date information.

For Employers

Travelers from anywhere in China including Hubei Province, who arrived in Ohio in the 14 days prior to February 2, 2020, are advised to self-monitor for fever and respiratory illness. If symptoms develop, they should avoid contact with others and call their health care provider to tell them about their symptoms and recent travel.

We ask employers to be flexible in allowing employees who fit these criteria to work from home or take time off. We know from previous infectious disease cases that this type of approach works and can dramatically reduce the spread of disease.

Battling Stigma

Please continue to show care and compassion to all neighbors whether they be sick or not, recent travelers or not. Be sure to quell actions that could perpetuate a stigma attached to 2019-nCoV.

Many Types of Coronavirus

There are other types of coronavirus. Everyone is using coronavirus as the name for this outbreak, but this is a novel (never seen before) type, thus the "2019-nCoV" designation. It is possible to be diagnosed with coronavirus that IS NOT related to the current outbreak. Common human coronaviruses, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives. These illnesses usually only last for a short amount of time. SARS is a type of coronavirus that causes severe symptoms but no human case has been reported since 2004.

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