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Indiana couple quarantine themselves over fears of coronavirus after trip to China

Kate Thayer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- In China, Ken Zurek of Indiana saw the disruption of the novel coronavirus -- bustling cities turned to ghost towns, businesses shuttered, citizens confined to their homes, a world on pause in fear of a quickly-spreading virus.

"What I just experienced? I never want to experience it here," said Zurek, 63, a concrete business owner who traveled last month to China with his wife, Annie, 60, to visit her family and meet their new baby granddaughter. After learning of the virus and cutting their visit short to return home after 10 days, the Zureks decided to quarantine themselves in their Highland, Ind., home for about two weeks even though they haven't shown any signs of the virus, like fever and cough.

The self-quarantine -- not ordered by health professionals -- is winding down and the Zureks, as well as their family back in China, all have remained healthy, he said.

Ken Zurek said he took the precaution to be extra careful after he saw the devastation of the virus in China. He said he didn't want to be the cause of any illness in the United States. "I didn't want to be the start of that domino effect."

The couple planned to spend about four weeks in China, mostly in Chongqing, where Annie Zurek's family lives and is about 500 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. News of the coronavirus had just begun to break in the United States when the couple arrived in China on Jan. 19, Ken Zurek said, so they didn't know a virus similar to SARS and MERS had started to spread.

Soon after they arrived, they learned of the virus and noticed its effect, he said. At first they saw fewer people on the streets than normal, some wearing face masks. Within a couple days, nearly everyone donned masks and streets that would normally be packed with people shoulder to shoulder, were empty, Zurek said.


"Usually it's like New York City ... people are everywhere," he said. "When you take bus ... you never have a seat on the bus. It's always packed. But we got to see a ghost town, no doubt about it."

Soon the only open businesses in the city were grocery stores and pharmacies, and everyone stayed indoors, Zurek said. Masks were hard to find, but their family had a supply.

While inside, Zurek said he and his wife felt safe, and were happy to spend time with family and their new granddaughter. But they also constantly sought out news sources to read the tally of those infected, as well as those dead from the virus.

"My biggest fear was leaving my safe zone," he said, especially being in the Chongqing airport, which he said could be a route for those headed to or leaving Wuhan, where the virus started.


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