NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - While world health officials worry about how to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus in China, the worry felt by someone whose family lives there is difficult to match.
Three students attending Stephen F. Austin State University are from China. Le Gao, who goes by James in America, lives in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. He worries most about his grandparents. His grandfather is 90.
“They cannot go outside because once they get the virus, they cannot survive. My grandpa’s brother passed away because of the virus,” he said.
James’ photographs of flowering trees welcoming spring to China doesn’t depict the horror the virus is causing. His parents remain quarantined in their apartments located on a university campus.
“In this outbreak, I made contact with them. Like, I contacted with them for like a whole week,” Le Gao said. “And I couldn’t sleep well. Every day and night I try to [call] them."
Heather Catton, the director of SFA Office of International Studies, explained that there are significant concerns, but currently, all trips to China are on a case by case basis. Students aren’t planning to return home until at least summer or until the outbreak ends.
Wenxin Fan is from Chongqing. That’s about 500 miles from where James is from, but the virus still poses a threat.
“People don’t want to go outside. It’s still dangerous," Fan said.
Fan’s parents are drivers. His mother is a bus driver, frequently confined with crowds of people.
“She still drives, but mostly she stays at home," he explained. "They just reduce the work time.”
Fan worries that his parents, particularly his father, are dismissing the seriousness of the virus. A caring son, 7,000 miles away, keeps them informed.
“I buy some masks to [send] to them. And just tell them how serious it is. Because my father has masks and says,'Oh, not dangerous.' But I need to tell them how dangerous it is," Fan explained.
Fan receives images of meals his parents are cooking to pass the time away. Each one makes him miss his favorite dishes, but it’s nowhere close to how much he misses his family.
“I have to come back to China because I miss my family so much, more than everything," Fan said.
James tied to keep the faith with his friends.
“We pray together, and (pause) all we need to do is just pray," Gao said.
Both students said their spring break will be spent in the U.S. They probably won’t take the trip home until the summer, in hopes that the outbreak has ended and airfare is cheaper.
Some American universities have canceled study abroad programs in China. SFA’s Office of International Programs is taking travel to China on a case-by-case basis.
“I think since our numbers are so small we do want to take it just on a case by case basis," Catton said. "Of course, you know if something happens, if lots of air travel becomes suspended that would impact our programs, but I think general travel within the next six months we’re not really concerned about.”
Catton said there are about 118 international students at SFA in the Spring 2020 semester.