“We literally are copying how his family handled this in China. Yulin and Emy have not left the house in a week and a half. I’m the designated one. If I go out, wearing an extra set of clothing and taking it off … I really think that everybody needs to take these extra precautions. If we get an Amazon package, we’re going to bring it in wearing gloves and let it sit for a few days because the virus can survive on cardboard for three days, so we’re taking all of these extra precautions. Not because we’re afraid of the virus. We’re afraid of everybody being sick at the same time and just completely overwhelming the system.”
That was Ann Yin talking from her North Minneapolis home on March 22. Her family had just endured what for any spouse would have been a nightmare: Her husband, and father to her two daughters, was stuck in Wuhan, China, at the very beginning of the coronavirus saga.
A nightmare that we would all very soon be sharing, in our own highly personal, yet universal ways.
Wuhan, January 19
Yulin Yin flew from his home in Minneapolis to Wuhan, China, to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family in the city where he was born and raised. When he landed, he noticed more people than normal wearing surgical masks at the luggage pickup.
“Pretty much everyone, so I knew there was something serious going on.”
Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, Ann had noticed news reports both nationally, and locally via the Star Tribune, that a concerning new flu was originating in Wuhan.
“I said, ‘Honey, they’re calling this the Wuhan flu.’”
Strangely enough, she was armed with more information than he was, even at the source of the virus. In Wuhan, Yin and his family had heard little more than rumors.
Two days later, Yin and his family went on a grocery run for a Chinese New Year feast. Two days after that, on the 23rd, the government announced a total lockdown of the city—the lockdown being the first official word that anyone in Yulin’s community had received about the novel coronavirus.
“We had never had that in China before. I asked, ‘What does it mean?’ I had to look [lockdown] up,” he says.
“The trains, the flights, the buses, they were all shut down.”
The first move people made when they heard there would be a lockdown? They bought masks.
“Our family here that are Chinese and our friends here that are Chinese, even they ordered masks,” says Ann.
In the beginning, not unlike here, citizens were allowed to go out for essentials, and some restaurants were still open for pickup. But by February 4, “it was a true, massive, genuine lockdown. You could not even go outside,” says Ann.
“Even Yulin getting to the airport was so stressful, because they’ll stop your cars there.”
Besides, the streets and tunnels were shut down, and text messages were being received from the government instructing people not to drive their cars. Outside vehicles were banned.
Community cars with drivers in hazmat suits drove people to essential places like doctor’s appointments. Food and supplies were being delivered to entire communities with the help of designated property managers. Company managers would call Yulin’s brother and sister daily to check on what their temperatures were, and civil servants did the same for his parents, who are retired. Before being allowed into any building, including grocery stores, people were required to submit to a temperature check.
If they did have a fever, they were directed to go directly to a clinic.
California, January 28
Finally, Yulin was allowed to board a plane chartered to get Americans back home, bound for San Diego. Under quarantine, he stayed in the barracks of a Marine Corps Air Station. He spent 14 days there, kicking a soccer ball around for entertainment, before being cleared by the Centers for Disease Control. He was deemed healthy, and allowed to travel back to Minneapolis, rejoining his family.
They had no idea that their ordeal had only just begun.
Armed with the gravity of the situation, the Yins decided to self-quarantine their whole family, before anyone locally was talking about such measures.
“We could not figure out why America is not being more aggressive—more proactive,” Ann remembers.
Her social circle panicked when they announced their decision to quarantine on Facebook, prompting her to post this follow-up message:
“I am sorry to scare everyone with this last post. We have chosen to self-quarantine. We are not panicking. We are all healthy. We feel strongly that by staying home we are keeping ourselves and others healthy. This is the 3rd round of quarantine for Yulin 😞. We are going to follow the same steps as our family in China when they quarantined. Luckily both Yulin and I can work from home.”
That message was dated March 15.
Third Quarantine, Minneapolis
By March 18, Ann was so tired, she couldn’t get out of bed, with a raging headache that she attributed to all of the stress she and her family had endured. A cough developed, so she got some over-the-counter cough medicine, and it worked. She slept well for two nights, and got better. She never had a fever, and the cough and congestion were gone.
On Friday, March 27, her heart was racing so fast and hard, she thought it was going to pound out of her chest. She couldn’t catch her breath. She had a tingling sensation in her jaw all the way through to her left arm. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst, her pain and discomfort were at a 10. She called her doctor, who instructed her to go to the emergency room immediately. They both thought she was having a heart attack.
When she described her symptoms at North Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room intake, the nurse immediately told her:
“Oh, my god. These are symptoms of COVID.”
She was put into a private room with a mask.
“From the very, very beginning, they treated it like it was COVID,” says Ann.
“They came in with all the gear and put a sign on my door. They ruled out everything else first. It’s not a heart attack, it’s not a stroke.”
She was diagnosed with pneumonia, and, her doctor informed her:
”The way the pneumonia is, I’m almost certain this is COVID. I want you to realize that you have this.”
But, she says, this was no ordinary diagnosis in an ordinary examination room. Her doctor was speaking to her through a glass window on a telephone.
He apologized for having to give her the news this way.
“I could tell they wanted to test me, and admit me, but it was like this judgement call. My white blood cells were good. I thought, ‘I’m a hardy gal. I’ll take this very, very seriously.’”
She was discharged.
“I just hate that in America…” She trails off.
The discharge came with this admonishment:
“‘If there’s even the slightest change’ … and then he explained the grave [consequences] of how this can change very quickly.”
Recovering at Home with a COVID-19 Diagnosis, April 1
“This is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced before,” says Ann. “I’m starting to take it personally.”
On the fourth day at home, when she feels well enough to talk about her diagnosis, Ann thinks the worst may be behind her. But that sense of relief is compounded with dread—many COVID-19 victims have a second bout of illness when they think they’re on the upswing.
But her pain and discomfort have reduced to a 4 on a 10-point pain scale, with “a weird knot in my chest,” a headache like nothing she’s experienced in her life—“bright, tingy, tingly pain,” and worst, gasping for oxygen.
“You don’t usually need to think about breathing,” she says, incredulity in the background of her tone of voice, compounded with the knowledge that she would be in a hospital, under 24-hour care, if times were “normal.”
But she realizes that the hospital beds need to be saved for critical-care patients. She checks the CDC website to find the definition of “critical.” Blue lips are one of the symptoms.
So she goes to sleep, and sometimes wakes in the night, gasping for air, wondering if this is “critical,” or if she’s just being weak.
She decides not to go back to the ER.
Fear, Racism, and Stigma
As a family, the Yins have been taking COVID-19 as seriously as anyone possibly could. They’ve done everything as “right” as possible.
“And I’m the one who gets it, dammit,” Ann says. “But I’m thankful that we were here under quarantine. I think of how many other people would have been exposed if I was out and about.”
And while she’s happy her pain has diminished, the thing she can’t shake is an overwhelming sense of fear.
“I’m watching this video on how to take in your Amazon packages, and I’m thinking: It probably doesn’t even make a difference. This is something where you can’t do everything ‘right.’ Governor Walz says up to 80% of us will get this. The overwhelming majority of us will recover. This is nature.”
But while she’s philosophizing, her gradual recovery is also tainted with a sense of dread.
“We are not prepared for this. In America, at this point in time? It’s just mind-boggling.”
To add literal insult to injury, she’s hesitant to tell her family’s story for fear of anti-Chinese sentiment and racism, even though her doctor was adamant that her transmission was not from her husband, who continues to be healthy, but from local community transmission.
Her onset of symptoms, between 7 to 14 days, traces it back to a grocery run that she vigilantly took just once a week, while the rest of the family stayed under quarantine. She was wearing gloves at the time, but, she notes, no mask.
“I know people want to pin this on Yulin. Even when I was posting about his coming back from China, people who I thought were supposed to be my friends were posting things on their Facebook pages like ‘That’s what you get for marrying someone from China,’ and ‘I wonder how many tax dollars were wasted getting him back here.’” (The Yins received a bill for $1,200 from the government to pay for his quarantine flight back to the U.S.)
“What I can’t figure out is that we should be learning from China, instead of blaming China,” she says.
And beyond the anti-Asian backlash that’s already all too visible on the worldstage, Ann is now worried about another, less anticipated COVID-19 symptom: social stigma.
“As it turns out, I have other friends getting sick. One of them posted about it, and her boss made her take it down.”
“I feel amazing today!” April 4
I field a text from Ann at 12:13 a.m. on a Saturday.
“Literally like an effing Cinderella skipping with birds and and mice dancing around me good! Oh! I’m feisty again! I want to open my windows and yell: ‘God Bless Us Everyone!’”
The Yins say that this has been a life-changing experience for both of them. Yulin has a newfound appreciation for his life in America. “I feel thankful to be back with Ann and the girls,” he says.
“It was difficult being so far apart. I’m thankful to be back to my job and the security of that. And I’m thankful to be in America because I have access to reliable information.”
For Ann’s part, she says that every day life is sweeter than it was before she got sick.
“I love my life and every single thing about my daughters. I want to enjoy every moment. Like, this noise in the background—I just want to say, ‘Sing! Yes! Sing louder!’ Because we worry about so much stuff that doesn’t even matter. Yesterday, I took a full, real breath, and I thought:
‘Oh, yeah. I can breathe.’”