Tuesday, October 27, 2009

H1N1 Quarantine

It is officially quarantine time here in Weinan.

The school frantically sent us a message at 8:30 last Wednesday morning: "Sorry to bother you this early, there is an emergence (sic), the school identified one case of flu last night, it is a student from biology department, so we need to talk about this, are you free this morning?"

So we scrambled over to the waiban's office and learned that the night before, school officials were called together for an emergency meeting at 10 p.m. because there were now 15 cases of swine flu in Weinan. Eight cases had been identified at the Railway University in another part of town and one here. "It is a very serious situation."

We knew China was taking H1N1 (the swine flu) seriously when they monitored everyone's temperatures who walked through the Beijing airport and asked us to provide contact information in case anyone on the plane sitting near us had been infected. We even heard stories of people who received daily calls asking if they were alright.

We knew the school was beginning to take H1N1 seriously when they handed us thermometers a month ago and asked us to monitor our temperatures daily, informing school officials if it topped 38 C (100.4 F). Now, they want to be notified if our temperature crosses 37.5 C (99.5). They also began checking IDs at the school gates to limit access. Several schools in Xi'an had already implemented full-blown quarantines, not allowing anyone off-campus, so we crossed our fingers that this wouldn't spread to Weinan.

Now that an infected student on campus has been found, the game has changed.

So the new rules: "Students will not be allowed to leave campus unless they have very urgent business and a note from the dean."

Teachers will be allowed to leave campus, but are be strongly urged not to do so unless absolutely necessary. "

You'd think that someone had died, not just gotten a case of the flu, but the fallout in China after their failure to stop the spread of bird flu a few years ago had them kicking precautionary measures into overdrive here.

Thankfully they only FORBADE us from going to two places: the two big, crowded supermarkets where we do most of our grocery shopping.

"You should avoid crowded areas," we were told. "Also, it is better if you cook at home rather than going to restaurants."

Unfortunately, there was a problem: We are about to leave for Beijing, since Ruth's parents were about to board their flight to visit us only a few hours after we were notified of the quarantine. It's a bit difficult to avoid crowded places in a city of some 17 million people.

"Maybe you should wear a mask."

"Do you know where we can buy one?" I asked, thinking that probably the now off-limits supermarkets might be our best bet. The school gave us several for the trip.

We did just come back from a few days in Beijing with Ruth's parents (we took them to the Great Wall, where the leaves were turning orange and yellow, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen, the Hutongs an acrobat show and our favorite Chinese Mexican restaurant: Pete's Tex-Mex). Now we're wondering just how much off-campus exploration of China they're going to be allowed to do. When we first arrived from the train station, the guard asked to see our IDs. We probably were only allowed to enter because of our foreignness. I was able to leave campus yesterday to buy some groceries at a smaller nearby store, but it'll be a shame for them to come to China and not be able to go anywhere or eat Chinese food. What happens when we take them to Xi'an this weekend? Not quite sure.

We'll see. So far, I've only seen a handful of students and a few teachers walking around campus wearing protective masks.

Then again, this afternoon, one of the workers in the English department stopped Ruth, asking if she taught a particular class. "The roommate of one of the students in your class has H1N1, so all of your students will be required to wear masks when they are in the dormitory and while they are in the classroom so that nobody else gets sick."

Rumors among students are swirling that perhaps as many as 100 students aren't allowed to leave their rooms and that at least three are symptomatic. Students, many of whom live nearby and go home every weekend, are already getting stir-crazy. At least one has admitted to burrowing through a tiny hole in the fence so she can see her boyfriend off campus.


KFell said...

I think those masks are a lovely fashion statement. :)

Anna said...

A huge number of people at Bryan got it. I was beginning to wonder why I hadn't gotten sick since I always do. Then I discovered that when I was sick at the very beginning of the semester, I had flu. Ooops. Apparently I'm partially responsible for spreading flu to the entirety of our campus. =/