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My experience flying from LA to Shanghai amid COVID19 and 14 day centralized quarantine

Chenyu Zheng
Mar 25 · 10 min read

I recently flew from LA to Shanghai and am in the process of a 14 day self-isolation in a centralized hotel. I wanted to share this unique experience during COVID19.

Who will need to go into self-isolation at home or a centralized hotel?

Travelers entering China with prior 14 day travel history to 16 affected countries (this list is updated daily) . Every city has its own policy. For example, in Shanghai, where I am having the 14 day self-isolation, Shanghai residents have the option for home isolation (if they qualify after the test) . For those who enter via Shanghai airport without symptom, but do not reside here will go to one of the designated hotels for 14 day mandatory isolation.

  1. Departing LA

I had been looking for available flights back home from LA for a few days. With school closure across the US, thousands of international students had to move out of dorms and most decided to fly home. Plane tickets became very expensive and left us with few affordable options. Due to the travel restrictions, few direct flights are available and most indirect flights range between 20 to 50 hours.

I called United Airlines and found our that the flight I was inquiring would not be available till April. On Sunday afternoon, one ticket became available with EVA Air, flying from LAX around midnight to Taipei and then transferring to Shanghai. I booked the ticket with my miles at 4pm, packed the suitcases and headed to LAX at 10pm.

A friend drove me to LAX Intl terminal and it was very quiet. In contrast of how quiet LAX was, EVA Air had a long line waiting for check-in. The airport staff told me “2 full planes” departing for Taipei that night . Many workers at the airport started to wear masks, some with gloves.

You may be aware of the contagious nature of COVID19. A study co-published by Princeton, UCLA, CDC and NIH found that COVID19 can stay on aerosol and surface from 3 hours to 3 days . 3 hours in the Air, 4 hours on copper, 1 day on cardboard, 2–3 days on plastic and stainless steel. Therefore, extra steps are necessary for airport and travel (if one has to)

Besides wearing surgical or N95 masks, I received a checklist of how to prepare for flying during COVID19. I took some precautions steps that I’ve never done before, including:

• Wear N95 or surgical mask and changes every 4 hours if conditions allow (wearing mask also helps prevent us from touching our face, a key method of transmission)

• Wear gloves and glasses / goggles, a hat or cap

• Bring ziplock and trash bags for electronics (iPad / Laptop / cellphone etc) to avoid touching the bins

•Because we need to remove shoes at Security, to minimize contact

(1) Wear 2 layers of socks (the outer layer is an old pair) and remove one layer after going through security

(2) Wrap my shoes in recycled paper during security

•Have a bottle of hand sanitizer spray in my pocket

•Use paper to open the doors in bathrooms

•Put napkin paper around the handle of luggage cart

• avoid eating or drinking during the whole flight and avoid going to toilet in the air

I boarded the plan around 11:50pm with a full flight. Almost everyone was wearing a mask.

2. Transfer in Taipei

I slept through the majority of the flight, which was an advantage of an overnight flight. After 14 hours of no eating nor drinking, the plane landed in Taipei Taoyuan airport. There was a queue to get through transit and another security check. I noticed that in Taipei, we didn’t have to remove shoes or take out electronics from the bags, which made the process much faster.

In the airport, people with green vest were standing in different locations and asking “do you want a disinfect spray for your hands and luggage?” and in the rest area, the radio broadcasts that “Elevators are being disinfected frequently.”

In the bathroom, the screen next to paper to dry hands has educational info on how to wash hands, etiquette of sneezing, and explaining differences among 4 types of masks.

3. Arriving in Shanghai

After 6 hours of transfer time, I boarded the next leg of my trip to Shanghai. Everyone who came from US or Canada boarded first with our names on the transfer list. Before entering the plane vessel, temperature was taken. On the plane, I could smell disinfectant and in this special time, that smell made me feel more ensured. In the middle of the flight, temperature was taken again.

Upon arrival in Shanghai Pudong Intl Airport (PVG), the custom officers with hazmat suits came and tested our temperature one by one. Meanwhile, we filled in a health and quarantine declaration form.

The passengers with travel history to heavily affected regions in the last 14 days were called to leave the plane first. We then queued up at a booth station to get our health form information checked . (Note: Passengers without travel history to highly affected countries can leave the airport as normal. )

Every worker at the airport was wearing a white hazmat suit. With the suit covering their whole body, it is hard to recognize each other. Therefore, their names and roles are marked with black pen. Some took their hazmat suits further with heartwarming poems.

此心安处是吾乡,健康扫码更安康。横批: 欢迎回家。

This one reads “Welcome Home. Left: Home is where the heart is. Right: Scan QR code and fill in the form for health and safety.” I asked if I may take a photo, he smiled and waved his hands. After 20+ hours on the road, this welcoming message and well organized process really warmed my heart.

The staff who work around the clock to ensure safety and health got the nicknames Baymax or “Big White” in Chinese (大白).

After submitting the health and custom form, we lined up to be directed to different booths designated for different groups of travelers

  • Transit 中转
  • Shanghai cities : for Shanghai residents, they get sent to their local community area and receive a test. If they tested negative, can self-isolate at home. No private car pick up. Family members need to stay in a separate house, otherwise the whole family will abide the same quarantine rule together for 14 days.
  • Zhejiang & Jiangsu province residents 浙江和江苏的居民
  • Other cities

No one (with travel history to affected countries) can leave the airport on their own and enter the public. This is a precautions action to protect everyone as the imported cases from international travel increases in China every day.

I had already contacted a community representative in my hometown, 2 hours train ride from Shanghai. They have set up a hotel room for me for centralized quarantine. However, as the whole health check process took a few hours, it became too late for the airport staff to arrange a car to send me to Shanghai train station. I was given an option to stay in airport lounge over night and take the train next morning, or conduct my 14 day self-isolation in Shanghai in one of the designated hotels.

I decided to have my isolation in Shanghai. By the end of it, we will get a document stating that we can go back to normal life.

The streamlined process is very impressive. In every step of my journey since landing at PVG, I received clear instruction and was accompanied by specialized staff. For example, one helped me figure out transportation, one accompanied me to transfer from T2 to T1 to wait for hotel arrangement, one assigned me hotel, one drove us to the hotel. They have their specification written on their hazmat suit. I spoke with one of the staff who accompanied me from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 and he told me they work in 24 hour shifts. I would love to extend gratitude to everyone at the airport and in isolation hotels to help ensure public health.

On the bus to hotel, there were 17 of us coming from Japan, US and UK. Our names were checked twice to ensure accuracy. When we got off the bus, we were greeted by disinfectant spray of suitcases and body. The process is very thorough.

4. Life in 14 day self-isolation

After 32 hours on the road since I left LAX, 9:56pm on March 17,2020 Beijing time , I started my 14 day centralized isolation in a hotel with other travelers back to China. For the next 14 days (336 hours), I will be strictly staying inside a room. But I am mentally prepared for this and believe that this is the best way to ensure public health in face of such contagious virus.

Upon arrival at the designated hotel, we filled in another form via WeChat QR code and vowed that all of our travel history was correct and fully disclosed. In addition, we received a thermometer to take temperature twice a day (8am and 1pm), a bottle of disinfectant pill to put in toilet after usage ( yes human feces contain COVID19) and a nice bento box of Chinese food.

Tears in my eyes to be welcomed home with a hearty Chinese food, considering the only food I ate during this journey was 4 nut butter bars.

Once entering my room, I sprayed my suitcases again before opening, showered and washed all my clothes by hand.

On 3/18/2020 , I woke up at 5am from the jet lag and saw my first sunrise in Shanghai. ☀️Feeling grateful for nature wherever we are and the bird chirping, rooster announcing the morning arrival, and the sound of train and airplane taking off. Although I will be staying in a room, the window becomes my connection to nature and the real world.

As I have been living in suitcases for 4.5 years, I quickly made myself at home with items from suitcases and my pantry on-the-go.

(1) art calendar (2) owl from mexico that I bought in LA (3) small packets of peanut butter, oatmeal, green drinks , and coffee pods 1,3,5 (4) favorite snacks from Trader Joe’s (5) book from Jack , airbnb magazine that I didn’t get to read and 🍊 from Molly (6) my journal book which has artist tapes in the last page ( always try to fit things I need with limited space) (7) UV disinfection disk given to me a year ago.

I was showered by comments and DMs from friends that I haven’t spoken for a while. Their message of support and blessing made me feel that we are all one in this special time. As I’ve been receiving questions about the self-isolation process for travelers, I started to compile a Q&A.

During the 14 days, we can not leave the room, even the door. if we step outside the door twice, the clock resets for 14 days. 14 day starts the moment you are registered in the accommodation.

  1. Can you order food delivery during isolation?

No perishable food, like from restaurants. Bottled or boxed items from delivery are ok. Specialized personnel handles delivery , no one from outside can enter.

3 meals are provided and delivered to the door. Same menu for everyone.

Update: In some hotels, food delivery is possible, but slower delivery as it has to be delivered by special staff working onsite.

2. Do you need to pay for accommodation ?

This is evolving situation. Starting on March 17th, for Shanghai, if your isolation is in a hotel, you pay for the accommodation at a fixed price. I believe it’s much lower than the regular hotel price.

In Shanghai, $28/ night accommodation and $7 / day for 3 meals.

Different cities have different local policy. Best to check.

3. What do you experience daily ?

A temperature self check at 8am and 1pm and call staff to report temperature.

A knock on the door to inform food or package arrival.

4. If your final destination is not Shanghai, do you need to isolate in Shanghai ?

No, if you have a transit ticket within 12 hours of arrival in Shanghai. You can keep going on your trip and isolate in final destination. Will follow the local isolation and quarantine policy.

5.How do you feel mentally ?

My room has a window which is good to feel connected to real world.

Secondly, I was mentally prepared for 14 days isolation regardless and know that many friends have not left house for 40+ days.

I have books to read, articles to write and some movies to watch. I will study yoga and zumba via online streaming .

And also a good time to Facetime with old friends who haven’t spoken for a while.

Will update the list as it goes on.

I have learned a lot from this personal experience with COVID 19 and hope to share it with those who are anxious about self-isolation or intl flight to China at this moment. Stay healthy during this special time. We could be alone but together.

Chenyu Zheng

Written by

Artfully Translating Cultures | International Advisor & Brand Ambassador | Chinese Born Global Citizen 苹果姐姐

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