After Justin — a first year at Yale — returned from a family emergency in China a week ago, he saw University Provost Scott Strobel’s email to the Yale community asking all travelers from China to register on an online form due to worries surrounding the Coronavirus 2019-nCoV outbreak. Unsure whether “the guidelines [were] actually strict rules,” he contacted his dean that night whether he should fill out the form as well.
He woke up to an email the next morning confirming a reservation at the New Haven Omni Hotel that night — a precautionary self-isolation organized and paid for by the University, despite him having no flu-like symptoms. He has been living in the Omni and skyping into classes ever since. And because coronavirus symptoms take as long as two weeks to appear, Justin’s stay in the Omni will continue until next Wednesday.
“It’s a bit of mixed feelings,” Justin said. “I definitely miss just seeing all my friends and things like that. But they are like paying for my food and all that, so that’s kind of nice.”
According to Justin, he is free to leave his hotel room for walks outside or food, but he avoids being around large groups of people or being within six feet of anyone. While Justin has not yet visited Yale Health, he is required to report his temperature and general health every day.
The Omni Hotel New Haven manager on duty late Thursday said that he was unable to comment on the situation. In response to this particular case, University spokeswoman Karen Peart told the News that “Yale Health has confirmed that they have not encountered any returning travelers with illness to date.”
Those who have traveled to China and register with Yale as Strobel requested, including Justin, are now encouraged to seldom travel, remain indoors and monitor one’s temperature twice per day for 14 days after returning from mainland China. In an email to the News, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin emphasized that these measures do not constitute a quarantine. Rather, he wrote, the move is a “voluntary self-isolation.” Justin said that although he is “pretty sure” he doesn’t have the virus, he understands that it is necessary “out of an abundance of caution.”
Justin’s situation is just one example of the lengths to which Yale has gone to defend against the growing Coronavirus epidemic. Amid worldwide concerns about the quickly spreading illness, the University has had to grapple with how to handle a number of students studying abroad, affiliates who call China home and staff working in the country, as they remain unable to return to China for the time.
“KEEPING OUR EARS OPEN”
Because of the epidemic, the U.S. State Department has given China a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory — a measure that puts the country in the same advisory-category as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and South Sudan, all of which pose a greater likelihood of life-threatening risks to travelers. In keeping with the State Department assessment, Strobel announced in a Monday community-wide email that all University faculty, staff, students and visitors should register with Yale Health and self-isolate for 14 days following arrival from China.
According to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, this means that the Yale Center Beijing — a University post in China — will be temporarily closed and will not be hosting any visitors for events for the next two months.
Devin Lau, the assistant director of the temporarily-shuttered Yale Center in Beijing, told the News in an email that his team is working closely with University leadership to monitor the situation and provide updates as needed. According to Lau, the center’s staff members are on an extended Chinese New Year holiday as per the Chinese government. While there are no fellows actively working at the center, Lau added that the center is “keeping [their] ears open for any Yalies in China who might need assistance.”
Ten Yale students on the Richard U. Light Fellowship — a program that provides funding for East Asian language study — have since left the country after Coronavirus outbreaks have infected thousands and claimed hundreds of lives. According to Light Fellowship Director John Park, seven of these fellows plan to continue their studies at the International Chinese Language Program in Taiwan in a few weeks.
But for other Yale affiliates currently in mainland China — including faculty and other Yale community members — future plans remain uncertain.
In addition to the 10 Light Fellows, other Yale affiliates may still be in China or may be currently in self-isolation. Genecin told the News that he expects that the number of undergraduates to register with Yale Health will be in the “low single-digits” and for there to be “somewhat larger groups” of Yale graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty and family members. But, he said, “we do not have a final count.”
As of Tuesday, when he wrote his email to the News, all of those who have registered through Genecin’s form do not have symptoms would suggest a Coronavirus infection.
Among these students were Zach Black ’22 and Alex Liang ’22, who were studying in Beijing this fall and planned to return to China for the spring term. After Black and Liang’s Light fellowship-funded program in Beijing was cancelled on Jan. 30 over Coronavirus-related fears, they were forced into a difficult position. Black quickly changed his plans, applying his funding to a different program Taiwan, but Liang’s spring term plans remain uncertain.
Liang explained that the situation surrounding the virus is “fluid,” and updates to programs’ schedules emerge every day in response to it.
Black still has to pay for the apartment he had rented in Beijing, and expects to lose between $2,000 and $3,000 on housing costs. Like Liang, the majority of his luggage and furniture remain in Beijing and he is currently unable to retrieve it.
Since leaving Beijing, Black has self-isolated in accordance with the guidelines Genecin sent to all members of the Yale community. Still, Black noted that it is “muddy” as to whether he is required to self-isolate. He has elected to adhere to the guidelines Yale provided, but said that it is unclear to him exactly what self-isolating means.
In a statement emailed to the News, Light Fellowship Director John Park said there is “no reason to believe” there are any concerns for health or safety of Yale affiliates in Japan, Korea and Taiwan at this time — all other destinations for the Light Fellowship. And, he said, there are currently “no change of plans” for this summer. But that could change in the coming weeks, he added.
Chair of East Asian Languages and Literature Aaron Gerow noted that there is a “University-wide concern” over whether the virus will interfere with the wishes of students who take Chinese and plan to study in China this summer. Since Strobel’s announcement only concerns travel restrictions until April, Gerow said they can “only wait and see how the situation develops.”
Along with health concerns, the virus’s outbreak has seen rises in worries over discrimination as well.
In an email to the student body, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun underscored the importance of treating community-members with “respect and common decency” regardless of nationality, ethnicity or area of study during this time. Gerow echoed Chun’s apprehension and added that news of the outbreak has led to increased acts of xenophobia.
Gerow cited an incident he recently heard from a Yale graduate student of Asian descent that their accomodation in the United Kingdom was cancelled hours before the student’s arrival in the country, out of coronavirus fears — even though the student is not from China and had not been in China for the last few months. He told the News that recent reports from all over the United States of “racist, xenophobia and of course extremely ignorant acts” against people of Chinese or Asian descent are “greatly [concerning].”
“It is deeply disturbing to hear that Yale students are becoming victims of such racism and ignorance,” Gerow said. “It is imperative that the media actively counter such racism and report on the virus in a reasonable, fact-centered manner that does not sensationalize it.”
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Update, March 30: Justin’s last name has been removed from this article. The News typically does not retroactively edit stories unless there are inaccuracies or misleading information. However, in this case, Justin was not integral to the story; his experience was told as an example of a broader trend of students voluntarily self-isolating after trips to China. In addition, Justin provided evidence of months of harassment he received on social media, including denigrating comments about his recent trip and allegations of bringing the virus to the United States.