Omaha resident Charlie Wasserburger is grateful to have returned to the United States after spending two weeks locked in an apartment in Wuhan, China.
Wasserburger will spend the next 11 days quarantined at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego waiting until he can return to his family in Omaha.
“It’s been a journey,” Wasserburger said.
Wasserburger was quarantined in San Diego after a business trip in Wuhan. He said he flew from Omaha to Wuhan on Jan. 18 to continue his work as a biotech contractor and was immediately told to stay in his apartment in Wuhan because of the coronavirus.
Wasserburger said the Chinese government locked down the city on Jan. 23, and he contacted the U.S. Embassy three days later.
Wasserburger’s wife, Fauniel, said she tried to book a flight back to the U.S. for Wasserburger after finding out about the lockdown but was not able to find any available. Fauniel contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and immediately received a response. Working with Sasse’s Washington, D.C., office, she was able to coordinate a flight back.
Wasserburger said he was evacuated from his apartment and placed on a flight to the United States on Feb. 4.
“It was a large undertaking to coordinate all of that,” Wasserburger said. “We couldn’t even get into the airport without contacting the Chinese government and getting permission.”
Wasserburger’s experience is another local connection to the international coronavirus response.
On Friday, 57 Americans from Wuhan arrived on a flight to Omaha and were taken by charter buses to the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland, where they will stay for 14 days under federal quarantine.
Wasserburger arrived back in the United States about 40 hours after getting to the Wuhan airport. He said the trip was long, but it is a relief to be back in the United States. Wasserburger said he and the 200 other residents quarantined in San Diego are being treated like healthy individuals with nice rooms and a space to mingle. He said five people have been isolated because of coughing or rising temperatures, but nobody has gotten the virus yet.
“It’s nice to be safe, and they’re taking good care of us,” Wasserburger said. “I certainly miss my family and my Chihuahuas.”
Wasserburger said his other colleagues working in Wuhan have been sent to their families and are being quarantined as well.
“It happened at the worst possible time and worst possible place in the world because of the Spring Festival,” Wasserburger said. “If they hadn’t locked down the city, it would have really been much worse.”
Wasserburger said that it was an eye-opening experience for him and that he is praying for the people who are still in Wuhan.
“It is a scary situation, and it’s unfortunate that they’re not able to escape from it,” Wasserburger said. “I really hope that this passes and we don’t lose too many more people.”
Fauniel Wasserburger said that she is happy she’ll see her husband soon and that she appreciated the support of the people around her. She said it was scary realizing her husband was in the middle of an epidemic.
“I didn’t realize how stressed out I was until I saw a picture of the plane landing,” she said. “I am thankful for the friends and family that kept me busy, which helped take my mind off of what was happening in another country.”