Yulin Yin was just starting to relax and fall into routine on day six of his 14-day quarantine in San Diego — with the anxiety and jet lag from an evacuation flight out of Wuhan, China, behind him — when the Minneapolis man got the news that everyone on his flight feared.
One of the 167 evacuees on that flight ended up sick due to an infection of novel coronavirus.
“Now I just want to make sure I am healthy so I don’t bring the virus to Minnesota,” said Yin, an IT professional. Yin, 48, was on one of five special flights that carried hundreds of U.S. citizens and immediate relatives out of Wuhan — the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The infection was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday night after the traveler had been separated from Yin and the rest of the evacuees, who were placed under quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The traveler had been placed in isolation at UC San Diego Health, along with four others who had exhibited symptoms but had been found not to have the virus.
Other evacuees from Wuhan have been placed under quarantine in Los Angeles and Omaha, because it appears to take up to 14 days for symptoms to emerge in people infected with the novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV.
The evidence also suggests that people are infectious only when they have symptoms, so holding evacuees until it is clear they are symptom-free is one way to make sure they don’t spread the virus in the U.S., Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC said last week.
“Now is the time to act so that we can slow the introduction and impact of this virus in the U.S.,” she said.
Yin gratefully accepted the quarantine as a condition of taking one of the evacuation flights out of Wuhan, though he said it has been odd to be penned in with strangers who are keeping their distance in case anyone is infected.
“We’re just supposed to keep a social distance of six feet away,” he said.
Yin has embraced Twitter, posting videos and pictures of his temporary life in the bachelor quarters of Miramar, but he is also trying to filter and forward the latest credible information about the virus to his family. He jogs along the perimeter fence, which is about the size of a high school track, and phones and texts when he isn’t meeting with health officials or having his temperature taken.
The novel coronavirus emerged at a fish market in Wuhan in late December and has since been identified in more than 42,000 cases and 1,000 deaths in China — including the death of an American citizen in Wuhan. More than 400 cases have been reported in other countries, including 13 in the U.S.
The CDC has reported only two cases of domestic person-to-person transmission — both involving returnees from China who infected spouses — and stress that the risk to the American public is low.
Coronavirus 2019-nCoV global cases
Sources: J WHO, CDC, NHC, Dingxiangyuan and Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering
Yin grew up in Wuhan and returned there to visit his parents and see old schoolmates for the Chinese New Year.
When he left Minneapolis, news had started circulating about the virus, but concern of a global outbreak didn’t emerge until after he reached Wuhan on Jan. 20. China then issued a lockdown on Jan. 23 that prevented people from leaving the city.
Yin’s focus switched to keeping his family safe — especially his parents, given that the virus appears to hit the elderly and sick hardest — and getting back to Minnesota before all flights out of China were canceled.
“Even if he got sick, he’s [otherwise] healthy,” his wife, Ann Yin, said at their home in north Minneapolis with one of their daughters. “We weren’t getting into that panic. It’s more like, ‘The world is panicking and cutting off China from everything, and we need you back home!’ “
She sought help from Minnesota’s congressional delegation to get Yin on one of the evacuation flights.
Yin said he felt safe from infection in his parents’ home and used the time to record a video interview with them. He felt nervous when he left that protective bubble on the drive to the airport.
Once in San Diego, Yin was overcome with emotion.
“While I was in Wuhan, I was nervous, experienced insomnia, anxiety,” he said in a tweet. “And I was afraid of people. I was afraid to touch anything from outside. On the first night of quarantine, I wept uncontrollably. I was the lucky one, I had hope of help.”
Yin said he is grateful for all the help. Health care workers at the site are coincidentally volunteers from Minnesota who are part of a U.S. Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Food and laundry are provided, and Yin received his laptop after some delays so he could work remotely.
At a meeting Monday night, Yin said he was told that the infection involved a woman who had minimal contact with others at the compound and was unlikely to have spread the coronavirus. Even so, he wondered if he would be traveling home as hoped on Feb. 18, which would be 14 days after his flight out of China, or whether his quarantine would be extended.
Yin had his own scare in San Diego when he coughed, but he discovered it was from the same warm-weather allergies he experiences every spring in Minnesota.
The family is trying to stay positive until Yin returns home. Yin even laughed about the good fortune of being assigned to sunny San Diego compared to other evacuees flown to colder Omaha. He gloated to his wife during one phone call about how he enjoyed a great sleep and had the free time for a leisurely run in the sun.
“I wanted to punch him,” she said with a laugh.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744