A Bay Area resident visited Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province — about 1,000 miles southwest of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated — on January 25.
He said that he saw more safety precautions being taken in China than in the US and that officials understood the gravity of the situation.
Seeing how differently the Chinese and US governments handled the outbreak convinced him that he felt safer in China than he does on American soil.
A 36-year-old US citizen from Cupertino, California, visited Kunming, China, almost 1,000 miles southwest of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated, on January 25.
When the Bay Area resident and user-experience designer — who requested to stay anonymous but whose identity was verified by Business Insider — visited China, there were at least 217 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
And following his trip, he observed just how differently the governments of both countries dealt with the growing outbreak of the virus that has now infected more than 94,000 people and killed more than 3,200 other people.
He told Business Insider that he saw locals and Chinese officials understanding the severity of the outbreak and taking safety precautions. That contrasted heavily with his colleagues’ blasé attitudes back in the US and a disorderly experience at San Francisco International Airport upon his return on February 2.
In China, he told Business Insider, he noticed precautions being taken.
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Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendants wore masks aboard, as did many Chinese residents, he said. The man said locals likely remembered what it was like experiencing the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and knew how to prepare.
(While masks can help prevent people who are already sick from spreading the illness, they’re not very effective for healthy people trying to avoid getting it. Health experts recommend washing your hands thoroughly and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.)
Passengers also went through full-body screenings with infrared thermometers at the airport in Kunming, he said.
When a relative with late-stage cancer died while the man was visiting, the body was taken away by people in protective suits as a precaution.
The Chinese government had issued an order to cremate the body of a loved one within 12 hours of their death in case they had the virus, something the man said he and his family followed.
A family in Wuhan was described as having to do the same in a New York Times report on February 10.
But returning to the US was a different story.
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He said “the alarm bells” sounded when he saw how the outbreak was being addressed at San Francisco International Airport.
“They literally had no idea what they were doing,” he said, adding that one airport official even admitted that since things had escalated so quickly they were in disarray.
As passengers got off the plane, no one was at the gate to record their temperatures, he said. (One of the symptoms of the disease is a fever, though a few cases are asymptomatic.)
He also said no one was wearing masks.
It took him hours to go through customs, get his temperature taken at customs, and fill out paperwork. The man said the paperwork that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave him was handwritten and then photocopied.
People returning from China were taken from the immigration gate to a designated area to have their temperature taken. But since neither he nor his family members exhibited any symptoms or felt sick, they weren’t tested for COVID-19.
Passengers coming from China had to wait in “the little black room” in the airport, typically used for passengers with visa problems, he said.
The Bay Area resident said immigration officials didn’t wear any sort of protection and were impatient with people, telling them to stop asking questions when they inquired about the wait time.
“It was really not a good experience at that point,” he said.
If he had returned from China’s Hubei province, he would have been given a government-mandated quarantine.
Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
But what he was given instead was a verbal recommendation to stay home and avoid going in public for 14 days. CDC officials also gave passengers cards with guidelines about how to self-quarantine and told him to give it to a primary-care doctor, should he visit one.
Thousands of people in California and beyond are self-quarantining in response to the outbreak, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.
He said that the CDC never contacted him during his quarantine to check in on his and his family’s health and that there was no form or other documentation to submit at the end of the quarantine.
“I’m seeing reports now that the CDC is monitoring, but what are they monitoring?” he said.
He worked from home. He said his son went to school the day after the family returned to the US, despite the man’s request to allow his son to stay home and for his absences to be excused. It was only after concerned parents learned of the family’s trip to China that the school allowed the boy to stay home, he said.
He said that if his son had had the virus, the boy could have passed it along to others at school in just that one day.
He completed his quarantine on February 17, but concerns about the virus loom as cases are reported throughout the US.
He said that based on his experience in both China and the US as the coronavirus has spread, his family was actually considering going back to China since they felt safer there.
“As someone who was in China during the initial outbreak/lockdowns and restrictions and seeing the situation develop here in the US I am 100x more concerned for my own safety during this crisis than I ever was in China,” he told Business Insider in a message.
As of Thursday, there were 130 confirmed cases in the US across 16 states, including New York and Washington. There have been cases of “community spread” in the US, meaning people who contracted the virus despite not traveling outside the US. And CDC test kits for the virus are limited.
“We’re the richest country in the world,” he said. “We should be the most prepared.”