BEIJING – Some Americans plan to leave China after the U.S. government advised about a spreading virus outbreak, but many others are staying.
The State Department issued a travel advisory Friday saying Americans in China “should consider departing.” That followed the evacuation earlier this week of about 200 Americans from Wuhan, the locked-down city at the center of the outbreak. A second flight is planned next week.
In addition to tourists, tens of thousands of Americans live and work in China in business and teaching. Some have been in the country for decades.
Dickey, a kindergarten teacher, said he is “really scared” and trying to arrange for his 8-year-old daughter and ex-wife to leave Wuhan for the United States.
He lives in Changsha, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Wuhan.
“In 10 years living here in China, I’ve never seen anything like this, not even close,” he said. “The fact that our governments are taking such drastic and dire measures right now really tells me that the situation is probably worse than what we’ve been led to believe, or what the numbers would indicate.”
He spoke from a train as he returned from Beijing, where he had come to get his daughter an emergency passport so she and his ex-wife can get on an upcoming U.S. government-chartered evacuation flight from Wuhan.
He planned to stay in China with his Chinese girlfriend. “If I leave, she’s going to be all alone in a city that’s not her hometown, so if I left her right now that would be a really terrible thing to do,” he said. “I couldn’t do that to her.”
Iacampo. who has lived in China for two years, said she has no plans to leave and is more worried about the flu.
“I’m honestly more concerned with traveling than with being here,” the 25-year-old kindergarten teacher said. “Looking at the numbers, especially compared to things like the flu that put me in danger, I’m not especially concerned.”
The Arkansas native said her school in Beijing has postponed reopening after the Lunar New Year holiday by a week to Feb. 10 and friends are less willing to go out.
“I’m wearing masks out and about,” she said. “But generally speaking my daily life hasn’t had to change.”
Wester, a businessman who has lived in China for 19 years, is staying in Beijing and “self-quarantining myself,” which feels safer than facing airports crowded with strangers.
“I can control my own behavior,” he said. “I can’t vouch for everyone who is standing in all those lines that they are not being irresponsible.”
Wester is chief executive of True Run Media, an advertising company that produces magazines, websites and events in Beijing and Shanghai.
He and his wife are staying home with their 12-year-old daughter. Her school is closed but she is keeping busy writing blog entries for his company, including a series on meals that can be made with three basic ingredients.
Wester, who lived in China during the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, has organized a group for Americans on China's popular WeChat messaging service to try to dispel false information and calm fears.
“I’ve been reading about this and trying to calm people down,” he said. “It feels like a full-time job.”
Layman said she and her husband have no plans to leave.
The couple are showing her sister, who is visiting from the United States, around Beijing. They bicycled in the city and went to Tiananmen Square and brew pubs.
“We haven’t been quarantining ourselves, but we are taking precautions like washing our hands and wearing masks,” said Layman, who has been a teacher in Beijing since mid-2018.
Raymond, from Portland, Oregon, is wavering.
“I’m trying to not spread or get into a state of panic,” said Raymond, 28. “But I don't know if the severity is such that I should either leave or stay put and hunker down in my apartment.”
Raymond, who has lived in Beijing for four years and teaches drama at a school, is reluctant to give up friends and work connections. He said he has stayed indoors for a week, going out only to buy food.
“I have family back in the States and they’re all urging me to leave China now,” said Raymond. “I almost bought a plane ticket yesterday. So I really am teetering on the edge.”
Flanagan, a school counselor in China since 2011, is in the United States and has no plans to return soon.
Almost all the passengers were wearing masks when she flew out of Shanghai on Jan. 25 and, when one passenger sneezed, “everyone gave her death-stares,” she said.
Flanagan, 36, is working remotely with her students to prepare for English proficiency exams, though they have been canceled because of the outbreak.
“This is probably going to be a while,” she said.