Kate De Groote wakes up each morning and checks multiple websites for the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak— how many people have been infected and where they’re located, the latest death toll, what flights are canceled, what’s closed.
Then she eats breakfast. Watches videos online. Replays TV shows she’s seen. Eats lunch. Draws. Does her makeup. Spends hours on games of Go Fish with her host family. Eats dinner. Maybe reads. Maybe cleans. Then goes to bed so she can do it all again tomorrow.
It’s a peculiar time for the 18-year-old Utahn in Beijing, she said in a YouTube video.
“I basically have the rare opportunity to do anything I want to do because there’s no obligations,” she says.
The West Valley City resident told The Salt Lake Tribune she is not required to stay inside — but everyone else is for fear of the illness. The normally busy streets and sidewalks are nearly empty. Very few shops or stores are open. Her school is canceled indefinitely. It feels necessary to stay indoors, she said.
De Groote said she had no idea about the severity of the outbreak when she chose to return to China, where she’s attending college and studying Chinese, on Jan. 22. Now she lives it, and if her flight home scheduled for Monday is canceled, she could be living it for months.
De Groote said she’s tried to not let herself think about what might happen if her flight is canceled.
As of Saturday, at least 304 people had died in the coronavirus outbreak, and the World Health Organization warned countries to brace themselves for “domestic outbreak control” if the disease spreads, the Associated Press reported.
That news comes just one day after President Donald Trump signed an order to temporarily restrict many foreign nationals from traveling into the U.S. if they’ve recently visited China. The move doesn’t affect U.S. citizens.
De Groote’s father, Michael, is also worried, and not just in the way most parents are when their children are thousands of miles away.
He told The Tribune, “One: She’s far away. Just the normal parent worries. Then‚ you have the ‘Well, she could get sick worry.’ Behind that [worry] is always the chance of dying, but that’s kind of hard to believe."
But when the restriction on travel just keep increasing, Michael De Groote says he often worries: Can the virus get to her?
He also worries that if fear-mongering and paranoia in the U.S. increase, it could push officials to further restrict travel, meaning his daughter might not make it home for months.
Kate De Groote says her main concern isn’t so much that she’ll get the virus — she’s not at the epicenter of the outbreak and takes precautions, like wearing a mask and gloves and using hand sanitizer — but how she’ll spend her time.
Recently, she watched a TV series on Netflix called “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak.”
“Is this a good idea or a bad idea?” she asks, showing her laptop screen with the show paused. She points the camera back to herself, breaking the fourth wall with a knowing, devil-may-care smirk and flashing a peace sign.
“Whatever,” she resolves and goes for it.
Soon she tells viewers the decision was, in fact, a “very bad idea" because she’s now irrationally scared.
That brings her to an important point, she says. Often, people who aren’t directly impacted by disease outbreaks can feel detached from them, even though so many are suffering through it.
“I’ve seen a lot of joking online and people not really understanding that it is a serious situation that is impacting millions of families,” she said.
Despite the uncertainty of the situation, De Groote has resolved to approach her circumstance rationally and optimistically, with some faith and hope for good measure.
She ends the video with a reminder to her viewers: “Be safe out there. Wash your hands. Be nice to others. Don’t be racist. Send your good intentions into the world for the Chinese people and specifically the people in Wuhan who are currently suffering."