Stevio Dong watched a couple of friends leave for their home countries after the University of Montana decided on March 12 to move classes online. Dong is from China and decided to stay in Missoula, even as COVID-19 cases escalated across the United States. He and other students would like to have the option of going home.

“A lot of international students are considering going home because it’s safer there,” said Dong, president of the Chinese Student Association at UM. “But they can’t go home. There’s not an airline. There’s no way to get home.”

Many international students have already left, but Dong and others who remain in Missoula worry that staying will put them in more danger.

Dong, whose family lives in Beijing, said he was scared when cases of the novel coronavirus spiked in China. He remembered living through the 2002 SARS outbreak at age 6 when, 5,000 people in China were infected and more than

300 died.

The COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 80,000 people in China, but
the number of cases in the country are dropping. Beijing only saw 576 reported infections, and at least 411 have recovered, according to research from John Hopkins University as of March 28. 
Cases in the United States are rising. According to a New York Times database, the virus infected more than 100,000 Americans in less than a month — more infections overall than any other country in the world.

The effects of the pandemic have already been seen in Montana. More than 100
cases of the virus have been reported, and thousands of state residents tumbled into unemployment. Dong’s roommate lost his job near the beginning of spring break, and then went back to live with his family 
in Indiana.

“Of course I would feel safer in China with my family, and I considered my option to go home,” Dong said. “I don’t really think going that would be worth it, though.”

While many other countries are now statistically safer, Dong and several other international students at UM are struggling to leave the U.S. Junior Chiao-Chien Chen prepared to leave for her home country of Taiwan immediately after UM decided to move classes online. She had her return paperwork signed by the office of Global Engagement and packed up to leave by March 17.

“My original plan was from Seattle to Taiwan,” Chen said. “Because of the canceled flights by the airline, I had to stay in Tokyo for one night.”

Major North American airlines like Delta and United Airlines suspended flights
to Asia and Europe as passenger counts plummeted. Chen eventually made it to Taiwan, where she recently finished a mandatory two-week quarantine in her house. Chen, a junior majoring in management information systems, said adjusting to remote learning has been easy. Despite the distance and time change, she manages to work off of pre-recorded lectures.

“I think this is a good opportunity to train my self-control,” Chen said.

Dong also looked into returning home, but found he had to fly through multiple countries to get to China. That seemed risky. Once home, he would have had to spend two weeks in government-mandated self-isolation in a hotel room. Though he didn’t want to go through the Chinese quarantine protocol, he applauded the strict rules that contained the virus in other areas.

“If you take precaution, people are not going to freak out,” Dong said. “The U.S. government just can’t do the same precautions China has done.”