Coronavirus may extend Minneapolis man’s China visit

A man, a woman and two young girls pose for a portrait.
(From left) Yulin Yin, Ann Yin and their daughters Emy and CC. Yulin Yin traveled to his hometown to visit his family and friends. Now his wife doesn’t know how long he’ll have to stay there.
Photo courtesy of Ann Yin

Updated: 4:49 p.m.

Though state officials have yet to detect a case of the novel coronavirus in Minnesota, one Minneapolis family is being affected by it.

Last week, Yulin Yin traveled to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. His wife Ann Yin said the trip was planned as a chance for Yulin to spend time with family and friends in his hometown. Before he left Minneapolis the couple heard scattered reports about people getting sick in Wuhan. She said they called a travel clinic, but said “there didn’t seem to be any worry about it.”

Yulin arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 19. Yin said he didn’t see cause for alarm when he first got there.

“He had just mentioned, ‘oh, a lot of people are wearing masks. But, this is fine. It’s just like the flu, honey. Don’t worry,’” Ann said.

But in just over a week since his arrival, the number of cases of the virus spread rapidly. At last count, Chinese officials have identified 4,500 infections — mostly in Wuhan. The death toll is reported to have passed 100. Ann said they scrambled to find out if he could leave last Saturday on a charter flight reserved for Americans.

"We knew the chances of Yulin getting onto that flight were very, very slim,” she said. “Plus, we were juggling back and forth of, 'you're safe and healthy in your home with your parents right now. If you leave, you're going to be more exposed.’”

And if Yulin left, said Ann, he’d spend much of his time worrying about his parents from afar. She said Yulin’s parents are “elderly and frail.” Fortunately, she said, everyone is in good health.

Ann says Yulin’s family lives about 28 miles from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, which at a population of 11 million, has more people than New York City. The Chinese government has canceled travel in and out of Wuhan. Public transit in the city has been shut down as well.

Yin said the message from government officials went from advising people to wash hands and limit public interactions to a lockdown in less than a week.

“That’s when everyone started getting scared,” said Ann. “Mostly it was because, ‘maybe this virus is more than what we thought.’ There wasn’t a lot of information coming with the lockdown.”

Ann says her husband still is scheduled to return to the U.S. in two weeks.

In the meantime, Ann has reached out to U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips. She doesn’t live in his district, but said a friend had a contact in Phillips’ office. Ann said the congressman’s staff has been trying to get her in touch with government officials who can provide her with information about options. Staff in the offices of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith are also helping, she said.

Even if Yulin were headed home tomorrow, a welcome hug will have to wait. Yin said she understands that her husband likely will have to be quarantined for a week or two.

The Yins have two daughters. Their oldest is in college. The youngest is in first grade. Ann said help from family, friends and even strangers has carried the family through an experience at turns frightening and frustrating.

Yulin’s work colleagues volunteered to donate vacation days in case he can’t come back on his scheduled date. And Ann said her cell provider waived the extensive bill she racked up making calls to the U.S. consulate in China.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused a major disruption in their lives. But Ann knows it could be a lot worse.

“Ultimately we know this will work out,” she said. “Yes, it’s been stressful. But it has been tragic for some families and people who’ve lost their loved ones.”

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.