Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Day Nine: Letter from Congressman Welch's Office

UPDATE: Phyrrhic victory!!! They have clarified that people should come home and get sick instead of stay and get sick, but all I was seeking was clarity. Come home, friends!

Hello Mr. Lee,

I certainly understand your frustration. I reached out to the State Department with your question, and received the following response:

“Those currently in China should attempt to depart by commercial means. U.S. citizens remaining in China should follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Chinese health authorities’ guidance for prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment. We strongly urge U.S. citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings.”

Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any additional questions.

Thank you,

Shannon Furnari
Deputy State Director
Office of Congressman Peter Welch (VT-AL)

The following letter is from my Congressman's office, who I called about the inconsistent messages that Americans residing in China get from the Embassy and its five Consulates. Someone very familiar with the inner-workings of the State Department in DC, blamed this, in part, on the chaos of upper management and the under-funding of the State Department, as well as the redeployment of personnel to assist with the Wuhan/Hubei Province evacuations. I wrote a letter to these five consulates and heard back from them, each with different auto-response messages; only the consulate in Chengdu sent a personal response. In fact, I called my Congressman because I want to make sure he hears that the underfunding of State and CDC put thousands of Americans at risk.

In my rather emotional conversation with the Congressman's office, I also spoke about how the CDC and NY Department of Health provided insufficient information for me to be fully responsible upon landing at JFK Airport in New York City. The characterization of my current situation as voluntary (I have not been in Hubei Province so mandatory does not apply) is dubious, as the county delegated to monitor my temperature twice a day would go get a court order if I had not agreed. I am pleased to hear back from my Congressman's office so quickly and this information is, as the hope, quite helpful, but it begs the big interrogatory:

Is the advice of the United States Government to Americans still in China that they "should attempt to depart by commercial means" or have they backpedaled on that? How can Americans still in China know whether they are being told to leave? 

The response from Chengdu, linked to above, states, "The Department of State is doing its best to ensure that this information [from both official updates you received that had different information] reaches the widest audience possible." I am sure they are doing their best, but it is not good enough--a virtual consensus among my sophisticated colleagues who remain in China. My friends still in China, one of whom works at a private school (part of the BASIS private and charter school empire) has ordered them back to campus on March 16 (Hong Kong announced that their schools will not reopen until at least Hitler's birthday, man, 4/20). Another indomitable spirit, a former US Navy sailor, who is among my favorite people, probably would not leave

Most of us are teaching on line using buggy, rudimentary, home-grown (Made in China) learning management systems that were never meant to handle the load of 23.75 million high school students and untold numbers of primary school, tertiary-level students, as well as some businesses. Imagine the bandwidth and electronic devices needed for some large proportion of 1.4 billion people to carry on education digitally--the subject of a future post!

Hello Mr. Lee,

Thank you for contacting Congressman Welch with your questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the US and quarantines.

This link outlines the current rules and restrictions for anyone traveling to the US from China: As it stands right now, any direct flights from China and any individual passengers who have traveled to China in the last 14 days will be routed to one of 11 designated US airports for health screening and monitoring, and up to 14 days of self-quarantine. Anyone who could have been in Hubei Province within 14 days of their return to the US will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine upon arrival to the United States.

This link from the CDC has more information about the screenings and quarantines: It is my understanding that the individual states where the 11 airports are located are responsible for the quarantines, so travelers may be subject to a local, state or federal quarantine. According to the CDC, travelers from China who are ultimately allowed to continue to their final destination will receive information about symptoms to look for and will be encouraged to limit interactions with others as much as possible. Their local or state health department will also be in contact with them.  

Finally, this State Department link may also be helpful in answering some of your questions:

I hope this information is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any additional questions or if we can be of any further assistance.

Thank you,
Shannon Furnari
Deputy State Director
Office of Congressman Peter Welch (VT-AL)
128 Lakeside Avenue, Suite 235
Burlington, VT 05401

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