When El Granada resident Claude Kment said goodbye to his wife in November, he expected she’d be gone for just a few weeks. What he didn’t know, as she boarded a flight from San Francisco to Guangxi province in China, was that she was headed just 650 miles from the epicenter of the recent coronavirus outbreak.
Kment, who has lived on the Coastside for nearly 40 years, said his wife Yan — who preferred not to give her last name — left in the fall to check on her mother’s health and make arrangements for two caretakers to look after her.
But after the coronavirus outbreak swept the country, flights from China to the United States were canceled and Yan has been unable to return. Kment said he communicates with her via messaging app WeChat, which is monitored by the Chinese government.
While the disease is not yet widespread in the province — with just 252 confirmed cases and two reported deaths so far — Kment said no one is taking any chances. The city is on lockdown. From her mother’s condo on the 11th floor, Yan can see that the street below is nearly deserted. No one is out walking around, and few cars pass by on the normally jammed roadways.
Kment said Yan is permitted to leave the house, wearing gloves and a mask, once per week to shop for food and any other necessities. She goes to Walmart, where she can
get all the supplies she needs, but Kment said the shelves are depleted. People are no
longer allowed to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, so the caretakers she hired for her mother are not able visit. Her mother is in good heath, but Yan is still worried.
“In terms of food, things seem to be OK,” Kment said. “She is frightened each time that she has to go out and also when she comes back because she doesn’t want to bring (the disease) home.”
In the early weeks of the outbreak, Kment sent boxes of supplies for Yan and her mother. He sent milk power for her mother’s nutrition, American ginseng and chocolate. But he has to be careful. He knows that all of his communications with his wife are being monitored — and, since the new year, he’s no longer allowed to send supplies in the mail.
Kment said Yan finds solace in chatting with her friends who are struggling through the same situation. She watches TV and spends a lot of time cleaning and cooking.
“As time has gone by, it’s been a lot of boredom,” Kment said.
For his part, Kment spends his days worrying. He is constantly checking the news, looking for available flights and trying to decipher just how bad the outbreak has gotten.
“That’s my entire day,” Kment said. “I go to several websites a day so that I can monitor the situation and figure out what my next move might be.”
Yan has a green card. Kment said he’s considered going to China to make sure she can return to the United States, but said he hasn’t made plans to do so yet. Green card holders who are unexpectedly out of the country for more than six months are often questioned extensively upon their return, and sometimes are even barred from reentry. With no end to the spread of the disease in sight, the couple is keeping all of Yan’s canceled plane tickets as proof she intended to return on time.
“She’s worried about getting stuck there permanently,” Kment said.
All Kment can really do, besides check in on her and refresh his news feed, is wait.
“It’s far more difficult for her than me,” Kment said. “I try to keep her upbeat best I can. I don’t know how to do much more than that.”