For Palo Alto resident Esther Tiferes Tebeka, the current COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Santa Clara County is déjà vu. Tebeka was in Wuhan, China when the coronavirus outbreak began back in January. She and her eldest daughter arrived there for a one-month visit starting Jan. 1, just one day after the first case was announced.
The panic, fear, isolation and bare grocery store shelves in the Bay Area are all too familiar, she said. Although she remained positive throughout her initial ordeal and two weeks of quarantine on an air reserve base in southern California, she feels less positive back in the U.S.
"When I'm shopping, I no longer feel safe. I predicted what's happening now. This crazy shopping has created the best chance for the coronavirus to spread out," she said.
She sees the aisles packed with frantic shoppers at the Mountain View Costco, and she can't understand why people aren't protecting their faces.
"If they were in Wuhan, trust me, they would put on a mask. Do you think the virus is going to spare you because you are rich or because you are strong?"
In Wuhan, everyone wore face masks. Tebeka also still wears one when she goes out. She doesn't agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice that wearing a mask won't help prevent contracting the disease, she said.
Tebeka is a healer, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist. Her business, Tiferes Medical Acupuncture, experienced cancellations due to coronavirus fears.
"Overall, there's a big hit. It's going to be a challenge this year. But we still have to pay the rent," she said.
Her children are doing alright with their home schooling, using online services for their lessons. She is managing her household by paying the children for their chores and making sure they do their homework, she said.
Tebeka didn't wait for her children's school to officially close. She took her younger daughter and son out of their private school even before the mandated school closures; she purchased a plane ticket and flew her eldest daughter home from boarding school in Chicago after classes were suspended. On short notice, the one-way ticket was costly, she said, but higher costs and inconveniences are things she takes in stride in the COVID-19 age.
"You can't take a chance," she said.
The same concerns she felt in Wuhan she feels today in Palo Alto, and she expects things to get worse as the virus expands and people become more scared.
"The danger is not necessarily the coronavirus, per se, but the panic and chaos," she said.
After seeing what happened in China, Tebeka said people can't be too careful.
"There's no such thing as overreacting to this," she said.
As one of the first people to return from China and to live in quarantine, Tebeka also faced people's concerns after her release. She had outed herself publicly, granting multiple interviews while in quarantine and afterward, so everyone knew she had come from infected Wuhan.
At first, she felt the eyes upon her of some people who were a bit wary. Tebeka sought to assure people she was safe to be around by self-quarantining for an additional week at home.
Those concerns seem to have abated, she said. "That's a good sign," she said.
This profile originally appeared in the March 20 print edition of the Weekly and is part of our ongoing series, "Ordinary people, extraordinary times," capturing the stories of locals during the coronavirus crisis. Read more of their stories through the links below:
To view the series on one page, visit multimedia.paloaltoonline.com.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.