N.J. residents stranded in China by coronavirus lockdown return to U.S.


The two young children were stranded in China for weeks, locked down by the coronavirus outbreak while visiting their grandparents in the city of Wuhan.

A Monmouth County couple was marooned there as well. And a Jersey City woman was also stuck as the deadly novel virus swept through the nation.

The five New Jersey residents returned home last week or over the weekend on chartered evacuation flights arranged by the U.S. State Department, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) announced Monday afternoon. They were all under lockdown in China’s Hubei province — the epicenter of the outbreak — as airports were closed and quarantine measures were imposed to halt the outbreak’s spread.

All are now subject to the mandatory quarantine in the U.S.

A handful of other New Jersey families remain in China unable to return home and have reached out to Menendez’s office for help, according to a spokesman for the senator.

“I’ve heard directly from New Jersey families impacted by the travel challenges posed by this crisis,” Menendez said.

Those five residents and the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was delayed three days in Bayonne after arriving Friday morning underscore the measures being taken in the state to protect residents and guard against the virus spreading. More than two dozen cruise passengers were screened — and four were tested — for coronavirus after the ship docked. All have since been cleared.

The novel form of coronavirus has killed 1,013 people — all but two in China — and infected more than 42,500 around the globe. There are only 12 confirmed cases in the U.S. and none in New Jersey.

The two New Jersey children — both younger than 5 years old — and their grandparents returned to the U.S. this weekend. So did the Monmouth County couple. The Jersey City woman arrived Wednesday. None of them have shown any symptoms of illness, according to a spokesman for Menendez.

Not only were the New Jersey residents stranded in China, they feared they would contract coronavirus, including the Jersey City woman.

“She was stuck there, worried that she could be at risk for exposure to the virus, and if exposed, unable to access quality medical treatment,” Menendez said.

U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th), Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli were among the officials who joined Menendez on Monday at the NJ Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark to update the public on the measures being taken in response to the intensifying outbreak.

The Trump administration recently declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for Americans returning to the U.S. from Hubei province. Certain foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the virus will also be temporarily prohibited from entering the country.

Despite the growing concern in China, Persichilli said the threat of coronavirus remains low in New Jersey, far lower than the common flu. But they understand anxiety is rising with the death toll in China.

“Unfortunately, people have a hysteria about the virus,” Sires said.

He said he went to a grocery store Thursday, and when he sneezed while on line, a customer made a comment.

“The guy in front of me who was paying said, ‘You haven’t been to China lately?’” Sires said.

As concern intensifies, Persichilli said officials must ensure no stigma develops for Chinese-Americans.

“That is all of our responsibility — to ensure that there is no stigma associated with this disease,” she said. “We are responding to a virus, not a segment of the population. Our diversity is what makes New Jersey a strong state … So it’s important that we show our empathy and support for this community.”

Possibly the most important message conveyed by officials was the public’s responsibility in preventing an outbreak.

Over and over again, health officials have voiced the importance of practicing proper hygiene: covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands.

“As government agencies work to contain the virus abroad, and prevent its spread here at home, we all have a responsibility to exercise some good old-fashioned common sense,” Menendez said.

Spencer Kent may be reached at skent@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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