Photo: Beijing Capital International Airport (WikiCommons photo)
In a case that has many scratching their heads, a Belmont resident is under investigation by the Chinese government for flying with her family last week back to her homeland without informing the airline, Chinese officials that she had recently tested positive for the highly contagious coronavirus by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Jie Li, who lived with her husband and their son on Sharpe Road since 2015, landed in Bejing from Los Angeles on March 13, according to the Xinhua News Agency, the official media outlet of the Chinese government.
During the flight, Li, who is reportedly a Chinese citizen, began showing flu-like symptoms associated with the virus and was escorted to the rear of the plane for the remainder of the flight. Once on the ground, Li and her husband tested positive for the virus.
Since her arrival in China, Li has become a cause célèbre in the local news as she has been pilloried for allegedly “impeding the prevention of infectious disease” after her case was made public early in the week, according to an article in the Boston Globe.
Tensions between the US and China has been intensifying during the spread of the Coronavirus into a global pandemic with President Trump and many of his supports – a noted conservative attorney has filed a $20 trillion suit against the Chinese government – calling the novel virus the “Chinese” flu while the Bejing government notes there are no new cases in China as opposed to hundreds daily in the USA
Li was one of three Belmont residents who have tested positive by the state for the COVID-19.
Until this month, Li, who earned a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Iowa and taught a decade ago at Virginia Tech University with her husband, was working as the associate director for biostatistician at Biogen for a little more than a year.
While an investigation determined that Li did not attend the Biogen-sponsored sales meeting at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf in late February which has become ground zero for the coronavirus in Massachusetts, she had been in contact with fellow employees who were there.
In a comment to the Boston Globe, the biotech firm said it was unaware Li would be traveling to her homeland. Li has been fired this week from her position.
Li also did not tell the Belmont Health Department of her travel plans after the town was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that she had tested positive for COVID-19 just days before, according to a press release from Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department, dated March 19.
In fact, Li had been quite unaccommodating with the town from the time earlier this month when Belmont Fire Department EMS crews responded to a call for a person experiencing flu-like symptoms.
After Li asked to be taken to a Boston-area hospital for testing, the EMS crew contacted Medical Control which advised them that Li could and should self-transport to the area hospital. When told of the decision. Li informed the EMS crew to leave and she would drive herself for care, according to the press release.
According to Chin, two days after the incident, the Health Department was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that Li tested positive for COVID-19. With that information in hand, Chin tried to contact Li and her family via phone and text messaging, as well as, by going out to the home and knocking on the door. In each attempt, Chin did not receive a response.
Chin continued his attempts to make contact including reaching out to the healthcare provider that conducted the testing. But the testing agency was also unable to reach Li.
Then last week, as Chin still tried to notify Li, a resident informed him press reports from China spoke of a traveler from the USA who had entered the country wit the virus. The resident believed that person was Li. Chin then called the MDPH of the new information on Li who contacted MassPort – the agency that runs Logan International Airport – who began a contact investigation of all personnel that may have come in contact with Li.
It is not known when or if Li and her family will return to the United States. Currently, there is a ban on travel from China.