Family caught in coronavirus crisis

Chris and Diana Kirchenbauer pose with their children, Eric, 8, and Tia, 6. Chris has been separated from his wife and children amid the coronavirus outbreak that has since become a global pandemic. The Kirchenbauers live in Najing, China.

ANDERSON – An Anderson man living in China amid the COVID-19 pandemic that started there said U.S. leaders and residents aren’t doing enough to slow the spread of coronavirus here.

Chris Kirchenbauer, who lives in Nanjing and who has been separated from his family since they went to Wuhan, the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic, to celebrate the Chinese New Year with his wife’s family, has been watching news reports about what is happening in the United States.

“I know this is harsh. Someone needs to speak firmly and directly. I will. Happy talk is over,” he said in an email to his parents, Anderson residents Maureen and Harry Kirchenbauer. “I’ve been saying, ‘Don’t panic.’ But based on what I see, (it) seems most of you are a little too relaxed about this. A little panic could be a good thing. Or at least enough anxiety to do the right thing.”

Chris Kirchenbauer has been emailing his parents for two months as the pandemic unfolded in China. His parents have shared the emails with The Herald Bulletin and its readers, providing a firsthand account of the way the pandemic has been handled there.

His wife, Diana, and the couple’s two children are in their ninth week of quarantine.

“China took draconian steps, far exceeding anything tolerable in the US, and it still took eight weeks to get to zero new infections in Wuhan. We’re hoping they can come home soon,” he said.

Speaking from experience, Chris Kirchenbauer said Americans are going about preventing the spread of the coronavirus the wrong way.

“If you all don’t do it correctly, you’ll just have to do it longer. Or give up and accept huge infection rates, a completely broken health care system and a massive number of deaths (funerals you won’t be able to attend),” he said.

The biggest failure, according to Chris Kirchenbauer, is that there remains too much interaction with others outside of Americans’homes and immediate family. That means no visits with other family members and friends, no nights out for dinner and drinks, no trips to the beach and no play dates with other people’s children.

“Don’t allow anyone into your house, except to address health issues or to make critical repairs,” he said. “The only time you should leave your home or property is for food or medical attention, period.

“Previous generations were sent off to war. Most of you are being asked to stay on your couch. I think you can do it.”

Chris Kirchenbauer said it bears reminding that many people carry the virus without showing symptoms and may never become ill themselves. However, he said, they can be a danger to others.

“Almost 80% of patients in China got the virus from someone who didn’t know they were sick,” he said. “You should treat everyone outside your home like they are contagious. And you should behave like you are contagious.”

Self-isolation will require a minimum of four to six weeks, and up to 10 weeks in hotspots, including larger cities, Chris Kirchenbauer said.

“That’s how long it will take the last infected people who are not hospitalized to get over the illness, and an additional two weeks to ensure complete eradication of the virus,” he said. “You won’t see a decrease in the rate of new cases for two to three weeks after quarantine starts, which can be discouraging. There was a rather quick reduction of actual cases in Wuhan after the lockdown, but it didn’t show up in recorded cases until two weeks later. So it will seem like self-quarantine is having no impact, when in fact it is.”

Chris Kirchenbauer said for the first three weeks of the quarantine, the only person he encountered was working the register at a local supermarket. He remained in Nanjing, a six-hour drive from Wuhan, to recuperate from a surgery.

“I wore a surgical mask, used a phone app to pay, bagged my own groceries, didn’t touch my face and washed my hands immediately after arriving home,” he said.” Your home must become your green zone where you allow no intruders.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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