After traveling back to the United States from China this month, Liou Xie’s voluntary two-week quarantine ended last week. Her journey home wasn’t easy, but her duty to Plattsburgh State was more important.
The urban geography and environmental studies professor at PSU planned to spend her sabbatical in China doing field research in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Science and visiting her family in the Jiangxi province of southeastern China for Chinese New Year.
But when the city of Wuhan locked down Jan. 22, Xie’s plans had to change.
“Because the coronavirus got really serious, all my trips for my research had to be canceled,” Xie said. “That’s when I started thinking about whether I should stay at home or go back to the U.S.”
Although Xie’s hometown was not near Hubei province, where the virus originated, Xie began researching her travel back home. Most major airlines were beginning to cancel flights to and from China — sooner rather than later.
Not only were her field trips canceled, China’s internet censorship made it difficult for Xie to access scholarly journals that she would need to write her research papers. There were no confirmed cases in her area, and her family was safe, but Xie didn’t want to stay in China with no work to keep her busy.
“That’s when I decided to come back,” she said. “There was nothing I could do there.”
So Xie planned to leave Feb. 4. That same day, her hometown began a lockdown, after a nearby town discovered 13 new cases of the coronavirus.
“I realized I couldn’t leave,” she said. “If I got stuck, I had no idea when I would be able to get out.”
Xie and her brother began traveling to different roadblocks in her hometown, asking police if there was any way they could get Xie to the high-speed train that would take her to the airport in Shanghai. Eventually, her brother was allowed to bring Xie to the train station, only after he left his identification with police.
“They wanted to make sure my brother would come back,” she said.
Her original flight was from Shanghai to Washington D.C. with a connection in Seoul, a flight she booked as soon as she could. But when she looked at the flight details — a 12-hour layover in Seoul that lands at 10 p.m., the same time the airport closed — something didn’t feel right. Xie canceled her flight and booked another one with a different airline, flying from Shanghai to Toronto, then D.C. to Plattsburgh.
And her gut feeling was right. After landing in Toronto, her friend texted her concerned, asking her if she made her flight. The friend sent her a news article that said the same airline Xie canceled her flight with banned anyone traveling with a Chinese passport from connecting to South Korea.
“I would’ve been stranded,” Xie said. “It doesn’t make sense to me, because if you want to be precautious about the virus spreading, it should be anyone with a travel origin to China, not anyone holding a Chinese passport.”
After checking-in in Toronto, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol asked her further questions about her travel history. Even though she hadn’t been near Wuhan or Hubei province, Xie was escorted on and off the plane by officials.
“It was the first time I was the first one to get on the plane,” she said. “I was feeling so bad because I was holding everyone back.”
Xie said she was sure she didn’t have any symptoms of the virus, wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer continuously since she left China. But when she finally returned to Plattsburgh, Xie decided to do a voluntary two-week quarantine.
Under quarantine, Xie simply wrote research papers, practiced yoga, tried new cooking recipes and watched TV shows. The Clinton County Health Department checked on Xie during those two weeks by phone, text and three home-visits. Xie recorded her temperature and symptoms, if any, every day of her quarantine and sent it to CCHD.
The quarantine ended Feb. 19, and on her first night out of the house, she attended the Late Night for the Planet event at Olive Ridley’s, a live podcast talk-show hosted by a few of her PSU students.
With no symptoms of the virus, Xie is continuing her research on sabbatical and will return to teaching next spring. She said the quarantine was her way of being precautious and responsible, and she was glad her stay at home didn’t affect her duties in Plattsburgh.
“I wanted to minimize my contact with people, because you never know who was on the same train or plane with you, even though I was protecting myself very well,” Xie said. “You never know.”
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org