Just before the roadblocks went up and public transit came to a halt on Jan. 23, a handful of people were able to leave the Chinese city of Wuhan as the new coronavirus was starting to spread more rapidly. One who got out before the quarantine went into effect was an American, Christopher Suzanne.
By luck, Suzanne, 33, a teacher who taught English at a Chinese prep center, left Wuhan on Jan. 22, returning to upstate New York with his wife and their infant son. But days after leaving Wuhan, Suzanne wanted to return to the city at the center of the outbreak that has infected at least 72,000 people and killed nearly 2,000.
Even though he and his immediate family were safe in Schenectady, Suzanne worried about his wife's parents, who were still in Wuhan, the city that has been his home since 2009.
"I was married in Wuhan. I had a son in Wuhan. Wuhan is my home, and I will forever be tied to this city, so I need to be there," Suzanne said in an interview. "My wife's parents can't get the proper supplies in Wuhan, but I can easily get them here in the USA. I don't want the people and the place that have given me all I ever wanted to feel abandoned."
"My wife's parents can't get the proper supplies in Wuhan, but I can easily get them here in the USA. I don't want the people and the place that have given me all I ever wanted to feel abandoned."
Suzanne drove around the Schenectady area buying masks, hand sanitizers and other daily necessities — anything that could protect his family in China. The spike in global demand and prices for surgical masks and other medical supplies has depleted stocks and posed severe challenges for front-line health care workers in China, according to a statement from the World Health Organization.
Suzanne's plan was to travel back to Wuhan with the supplies, but that wasn't his only reason for going back; he'd also promised that he would never take his wife away from her parents. He said he left China with a "goodbye, see you next week" to his in-laws, not a long-term or a "forever goodbye."
Journey back to China
Suzanne said that, as major airlines suspended flights to China, he was on the phone many times and that, at one point, he was placed on hold for three hours while trying to rebook his family's travel.
"Nothing would work on Delta or any of the other American carriers," Suzanne said. "I asked for a supervisor, and the lady said she was the supervisor. She also said that if I wanted to talk to someone different, I would have to call back."
Suzanne did just that and eventually secured seats with China Eastern Airlines. The Suzannes boarded a 15-hour flight from New York City to Shanghai the next day, Feb. 3.
"You don't want to sit here," a man said as he noticed Suzanne holding an infant while seating himself. The man said he and other passengers in the back of the plane were from Hubei province, the eastern part of China where Wuhan is located. Suzanne smiled and replied, "I'm from Wuhan, too."
Once the Suzannes arrived in Shanghai, quarantine officers took passengers' temperatures and conducted health checks. Suzanne and his family showed no symptoms, but they were asked to wait in the immigration hall for several hours.
"They held us long enough for the clock to reach 15 days since being away from Wuhan. Looking back, it's a little obvious what they did," Suzanne said, referring to the virus' incubation period of 14 days before patients start showing symptoms.
Suzanne then caught a connecting flight to Beijing, which is about 700 miles from Wuhan.
Suzanne and his family are staying in a friend's art studio in Beijing, counting down the days and figuring out the logistics of getting to Wuhan. From Beijing, Suzanne mailed off the supplies he had gathered in the U.S. to Wuhan. Their daily routines mirror the lives of millions of Beijing residents now. They wash their hands frequently, wipe down everything they touch in the apartment daily and strictly limit their movement outside. Other than that, Suzanne has been "doing online lessons for work during the day and watching loads of TV series at night" to pass the time.
Suzanne said Tuesday that the masks and other supplies he mailed from Beijing had arrived at his in-laws' in Wuhan.
At the same time, Nick Pardalis, 25, an English teacher who moved to Wuhan from New Jersey last year, is also waiting to get back to Wuhan.
Pardalis and his girlfriend, a Chinese citizen, flew to Vietnam for a short vacation during the Chinese New Year on Jan. 23, the same day Wuhan was placed under lockdown.
"About three days in, it became clear that the situation in China would not get better," Pardalis said, adding that he had received an email from his hotel in Hanoi asking the couple to leave because his girlfriend is from Wuhan.
Pardalis negotiated an arrangement under which the couple would get their temperatures checked twice a day in exchange for being allowed to stay until the last day of their reservation. Because of travel restrictions imposed by the Vietnamese government, there are no direct flights to mainland China from Vietnam. Pardalis eventually was able to fly to China.
Pardalis said he was returning to Wuhan because it's where his girlfriend is from and it's where his home is, too.
"My friends are [in Wuhan], and I have cats, too. If I'm going to get stuck somewhere, I'd rather get stuck in my own apartment," Pardalis said. "We know there are risks over China. If we take precautions, it's worth it to get home."
Pardalis and his girlfriend passed the health checks at the Shanghai airport. However, transportation to Wuhan is still being restricted.
"There is supposedly a train to enter Wuhan, but it is difficult to book, and it's not completely legal," Pardalis said. "Once you get in, you have to know someone who has a permit to drive during the outbreak, which I do not."
Now the pair are waiting in Shanghai and will be "on the first train once it's safe enough to get there."
Editor's note: NBC News' Social Newsgathering team will continue to monitor Pardalis' and Suzanne's journeys back to Wuhan.