My Brother Is Quarantined in Wuhan, China. He Helped Me Prepare.

My Brother Is Quarantined in Wuhan, China. He Helped Me Prepare.
“Instead of our government passing blame to China to cover their ineptitude,” writes Armstrong, “try looking to China to see what they did right.” Pictured: Two reporters in Wuhan, China, on February 16, 2020. (Studio Incendo)

Seven years ago, my brother moved to China—specifically Wuhan—to work on his Ph.D. in Geology. Missing American style beer, he started to make it in his home kitchen, which lead to him opening a brewery and restaurant.

He stands out in China with his big brewer’s beard, towering at least five inches over most of the population. His life was so busy. We could go for a month without talking.

But soon our calls became more and more frequent. Rumors were circulating.

On January 10, he told me that an unknown flu was spreading throughout the city and the brewery had to close. It started fast—public confusion, media misinformation and cover-ups—and intensified.

Two weeks later, he was in a government-mandated quarantine. The photos and videos he sent were similar to what we’re seeing now in the United States: decimated grocery stores, selfies in face masks, documentation of your growing relationship with a cat. 

My Brother Is Quarantined in Wuhan, China. He Helped Me Prepare.

At the end of January, Wuhan had shut down to celebrate Chinese New Year. Work stopped, stores closed and his neighbors left to visit family in the countryside, already stocked up for the holiday. The quarantine locked them out of the city, and most are still locked out. Family pets died of starvation and dehydration. Some were left abandoned on the street. Good Samaritans saved others. My brother took in his friend’s cat, a blessing in disguise. He hadn’t spoken to anyone for weeks, and Mao became his friend—like the Wilson volleyball in the movie Castaway.

He outlined two things about Chinese culture that were vital in this time of crisis. 

First, the government lockdown protocol was followed without debate and strictly enforced—which significantly helped lessen the curve. People following the lockdown allowed the doctors and nurses to get a better handle on the situation. 

Second, their sense of community and family is powerful. A place where multigenerational households are ordinary. The people in your town are an extension of your family. My brother, a hairy American giant, is checked on regularly by his neighbors. 

My Brother Is Quarantined in Wuhan, China. He Helped Me Prepare.
In Wuhan, China, “the government lockdown protocol was followed without debate and strictly enforced,” writes Armstrong, “which significantly helped lessen the curve.” (Catherine Thackstone)

He told me about a couple who showed him where to buy fresh vegetables and meat when he was two weeks into eating only eggs, instant noodles and rice. 

He told me that when he goes out for food, he avoids confined public spaces. He wears a uniform: facemask, gloves, eye protection, hat, boots, coat. When he comes home, the process of disrobing and disinfecting is rigorous. The uniform remains outside the door until he goes out again. 

On February 17, he was informed that the hotel below his small apartment would turn into a hospital. He packed his things immediately. Now he lives in a 1,000-square meter warehouse, the size of a small grocery store. This change in location has made a significant impact. He can get food delivered. He has access to gym equipment, a sofa and space to roam. Still, his life is a solitary existence. 

He said that the hardest part is knowing people who got COVID-19. His friend is hooked up to a ventilator right now. The prognosis is dire. 

This isn’t something far away that happens to someone else. 

It’s here. It’s us.

Instead of our government passing blame to China to cover their ineptitude, try looking to China to see what they did right. Our anti-Chinese rhetoric is only ramping up hatred towards the West and Americans specifically. The entire world is suffering.

Stop this racist bigotry and focus on what we can do to help.   

Due to the conversations with my brother, I made plans to work remotely, and my pantry in Dallas stocked to last a few months of lockdown. He told me things would happen fast—and they did. 

He told me that until tests are available for everyone and have a 100 percent success rate, we need to treat everyone outside our quarantine like they are infected or spreading COVID-19. Sanitize and disinfect everything with which you have contact. 

He told me that depression and anxiety will come. Things that have helped him combat it include working out, sticking to a schedule and connecting with people digitally. He regularly chats online with family and friends, has long one-sided conversations with Mao the cat and tries new recipes from YouTube. 

He told me to set goals: learn to meditate, begin a workout regime, focus on a project. This lockdown might be a once in a lifetime chance to focus on something without outside commitments or stressors. The isolation could be a unique opportunity for self-improvement and reflection. 

He told me to stay home. Even though he is not Muslim, he knows how much going to the mosque means to me. I find it difficult not to be there daily, but I know I can work on my faith at home and not help COVID-19 to spread. We must think of our community and connect any way we can to the most vulnerable; the elderly, sick, struggling or single members within our areas. 

But first we must stop with the racism. We can look at what China does well and implement that in our own neighborhoods. Their culture has strong community ties that help keep people connected even when isolated. And when the government implemented a lockdown, they did not hesitate to follow that order.

They slowed the curve. They saved lives. 


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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About

Anniryn Armstrong is the Art Director and Administrator for Valley Ranch Islamic Center and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She created the Happy People Podcast, which talks to people about their passions, overcoming hardships and finding common ground.