Former Concord resident living in China returned to U.S. amid virus fears

  • Democratic activist Alexander Lee of Concord (left) tests the heat of a grill before putting an ear of corn on it to roast in front of the State House in Concord on Tuesday, May 31, 2005. Lee and others gathered outside the State House to bring attention a vote by the New Hampshire House of Representatives on whether expel N.H. State Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who raised donations he did not report from having corn roasts. AP

Monitor staff
Published: 2/28/2020 5:14:10 PM

The former head of the Concord Democrats is under voluntary isolation in New York state after arriving from China where he lives and teaches, and says the situation for people like him is confusing. 

“There’s no big welcome packet, no relief committee saying welcome back to America, here’s how you’re going to get from the airport to your quarantine quarters,” said Alexander Lee, who lives in Guangzhou, one of the areas of China heavily infected with COVID-19 coronavirus.

“It’s very disorganized. I called (Centers for Disease Control) and New York Department of Health before I came – I wanted to find out what to do,” he said. “But nobody had coached me or trained me or told me what needs to be done.”

Lee said that even though he is now keeping himself isolated in an AirBNB, he encountered other people and places getting there. “I rented a car, stopped at a restaurant … and did two weeks of grocery shopping before quarantining myself,” he said. 

Lee, who grew up in Wolfeboro, said he returned to the U.S. because, “I thought I could be much more effective here” in coping with a confusing situation. 

Three days after returning, he said, he was contacted by CDC operatives. He updates them twice a day on his temperature, as fever is one of the signs of COVID-19. 

Lee may be best known in New Hampshire for the years he headed Project Laundry List, which advocated using clotheslines to dry clothes instead of clothes dryers as an example of reshaping modern lifestyles to cut down on energy use. He has taught English and American history in China for several years, where he lives with a girlfriend, who is Chinese, and her two children. 

Lee returned to the U.S. on Feb. 17 because the government was recommending that Americans leave China, although even that was uncertain, he said. 

“The message was that you should leave by commercial means –  they were not paying to evacuate. They said ‘should,’ but then we got subsequent messages that didn’t include the same verbiage, so it seemed there was less concern. Then we got confirmation that they still wanted us to leave,” Lee said. 

“The concern is, you don’t want to get caught over there. I got the very last ticket that our well-connected travel agent could find, and it left out of Beijing,” he said. 

He said there are “thousands” of Americans in China who “aren’t sure whether to leave” because of various problems ranging difficulties with visas, shortage of flights, uncertainty about the extent and spread of the disease, and economic problems. 

“The economy is just crippled,” he said. “My  girlfriend’s business has no cash flow, nobody’s able to pay anybody.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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