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Santa Rosa mother, daughter endure coronavirus 'self-quarantine'

SANTA ROSA - Amy Deng closed up her downtown Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine office for two weeks. The tenant next door wouldn't let her step inside the shared lobby to pick up her client phone book to cancel appointments.

Her 8-year-old daughter, Daisy, was forbidden from attending school with her fourth grade classmates in Napa County until Wednesday and missed her best friend's birthday party on Saturday.

They don't even have so much as a runny nose.

For a family who lost their home, winery and beloved cat in the 2017 Tubbs fire, who lost a grandfather in October and went through a divorce in November, being caught up in the coronavirus panic is almost too much to bear.

“I'm just frustrated and angry and upset,” said Deng, 45, who grew up in China but has been an American citizen since 2012. “I used to think I was a strong woman, but at some point I feel like I'm just fragile.”

Neither Deng nor Daisy has shown symptoms of coronavirus, but they were under county-supervised “self-quarantine” after returning Feb. 4 from a trip visiting family during the Chinese New Year in Guangzhou, about 600 miles south of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Still, Deng reached her breaking point early last week when a neighbor called police, worried that the family would spread the disease. Rumors are rampant and she feels like an outcast.

“People have gone bizonkers, something between Mars and Venus,” said Deng's ex-husband, Charles Johnston. He wasn't on the trip to China, but spent eight hours on the phone making arrangements for Deng and Daisy to get home, booking the last two seats on a flight that went through Seoul. At San Francisco International Airport nearly two weeks ago, he greeted his daughter with a big hug.

Although the family feels isolated and unnerved, they understand people's fears.

“I agree to be safe,” Deng said. “You can never be too cautious.”

School districts around the state have asked children who recently traveled to China to stay home for 14 days. Johnston says he believed Daisy is the only student in Napa County under restriction.

Daisy and her mother have been considered by the CDC as “medium risk” of contracting the virus because they traveled from mainland China, though far from Wuhan, and had no known high-risk exposures to sick people while there. They have no symptoms, but the CDC recommended that they avoid public settings, limit public activities and “practice social distancing.”

Daisy's father, who has spent most of the quarantine with her, is not considered to be exposed, according to the CDC definitions, and has no monitoring or restrictions placed on him.

That has meant that he runs errands through town, including grocery shopping, and has carted Daisy along. She stays in the car while he darts in and out.

Last week, Johnston stopped at Petco to look at kittens - Daisy wanted to give one to her friend as a birthday present. He and his daughter FaceTimed so she could choose the right kitten from the safety of the car.

Chantal Stanton, who threw the birthday party on Saturday, said she was open to Daisy attending.

“I'm a registered nurse and so if she wasn't showing any signs, I would be fine,” she said, days before the party. “But the other parents? They probably wouldn't want her to come and that's awful. Everybody gets more fearful than it really is.”

Health officials are taking no chances, however, for a disease that has no treatment to cure it nor vaccine to prevent it.

During FaceTime phone calls, Daisy's friends are asking her about it.

“Christine called to play Truth or Dare,” Daisy said. “I picked Truth. She said, is it true you know about coronavirus? I said yes.”

In Calistoga, Johnston was told that neighbors had called police when they noticed him loading up his daughter into the car for errands.

“All of this is too much for me,” Deng said.

She's so depressed, she said, that she hasn't even unpacked her suitcases, and with little appetite and only one nighttime run to the Asian market when she returned from China, she has been eating mostly instant noodles.

The couple have been living apart since the divorce - brought on in part by the stress of the fire. He's in Calistoga where he is working to rebuild the winery and where Daisy lives with him most of the time, and she in a newly built home they purchased in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa, which was also destroyed in the Tubbs fire.

That means the family is being monitored by health officials in both Sonoma and Napa counties - and they have been in contact at least twice a day. Mother and daughter are required to record their temperatures morning and night and fill out a symptom form daily, answering yes or no to whether they are experiencing fever, chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, headache, muscle aches, abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting.

The answers have always been no.

Johnston has canceled his daughter's piano lessons and has been home-schooling Daisy, who is learning about the California Gold Rush and the ecosystem. The principal sent a note home with homework saying, “Hi Daisy! We miss you! See you soon.”

For exercise and fresh air, Johnston has taken his daughter to the six-acre winery site, which is nearly cleared of the charred remnants of their home. About all that remains is a metal swing set, but the swings themselves burned up. She can take her dog, a maltipoo named Bubbles, for walks.

And on Wednesday, she can finally return to school.

Although Daisy misses her friends - and is sad she couldn't go to the birthday sleepover with popcorn and movies - she has found one perk of being quarantined. At least for now: “I don't miss school,” she said. “Not a single bit.”

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