China Frees Some Md. Teens From Isolation

Quarantine For Swine Flu Trapped Volleyball Players

July 21, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

A group of Maryland teen volleyball players was released Monday from a quarantined Beijing hotel, where they had been held after taking the same flight as a person who later developed illness from the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

Tarver Shimek, 16, a rising senior at Towson High School, said she was glad to be able to finish a trip with fellow travelers from the Maryland Junior Volleyball Club.

As Chinese authorities assessed her health risks, she spent more than three days in the hotel, she said, making up games like "hotel tag" with other teenagers. They played with a volleyball that a coach gave them, and held a fashion show where all of the costumes were made of surgical masks, which those who were quarantined were required to wear at all times. But as some in the hotel started to show flu-like symptoms, Shimek said she eventually avoided contact as much as possible.

"It wasn't really possible to have much entertainment anymore," she said. "So the last couple of days were very long. I watched a lot of movies. It was quite boring."

China has one of the strictest methods in the world for limiting the spread of swine flu. Officials in masks or hazmat suits will board planes with temperature guns that they point at passengers' foreheads. If a passenger later is diagnosed with swine flu, anyone seated within three rows of that person is often tracked down. Those quarantined usually get to leave if they are well seven days from the date they landed.

Shimek will be able to wrap up her 12-day trip with a visit to the Great Wall, and the opportunity to perfect her volleyball skills by working with top Chinese coaches.

"I'm glad she got out as soon as she did," said Shimek's mother, Suellen Wideman of Towson. "I'm just focusing on how much worse it could have been. Tarver remained so positive. She made lemonade out of lemons. She made friends."

Mother and daughter stayed in contact with a series of 50-cent text messages.

Shimek estimates that there were about 25 Marylanders from two different groups eventually confined to the hotel. It was unclear how many were released Monday.

In addition to the junior club, Marylanders from USA-China Sports & Education Exchange, based in Silver Spring, were also thought to have been quarantined. The program attracts volleyball players from throughout the region, including Maryland and Virginia, said coordinator Ray Liu. Liu said he could not provide details about the campers because he was not in his office.

The U.S. Embassy's spokeswoman, Susan Stevenson, told the Associated Press that she did not have a total number of Americans quarantined in China, but said they were "aware of several cases at the moment." About 1,800 Americans have been quarantined in China since the swine flu measures began in early May, according to Stevenson. Of those Americans quarantined, 200 have tested positive for swine flu.

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