Coronavirus was the last thing on Mai-Lien Tran’s mind when she found out her dad was in the hospital.
Her father, a 63-year-old man who lives on Orcas Island, had been battling abdominal pain for several months, but was concerned about the cost of a doctor’s visit and didn’t seek medical help. Instead, Duc Tran waited until a trip to Vietnam in early January.
While in Ho Chi Minh City, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver at a hospital.
He returned to Washington about a month later, taking a connecting flight through Taipei, Taiwan, but about a week and a half after coming home, ran out of medication. His stomach started bloating again, causing breathing problems — so when Tran arrived at Island Hospital in Anacortes on Feb. 10, it was an emergency.
Nurses gave him diuretics to control the swelling, said Mai-Lien Tran, 33. While he was being treated, staff decided to call the Washington State Department of Health’s coronavirus hotline “for guidance,” according to Tran’s discharge papers.
“I don’t know why that happened,” his daughter said. “But in my heart, I feel it was based out of fear and all (the nurse practitioner) saw was that he was Asian and he traveled through an Asian country.”
Tran’s experience isn’t the first time people of Asian descent have alleged discrimination due to the outbreak. Asian Americans nationwide and locally have voiced their concerns about racial stereotyping.
Tran spent nearly six days quarantined and was released Saturday.
“They didn’t tell me what’s wrong … I don’t know why they (did) that,” Tran said. “Because I’m Asian.”
Because her father primarily speaks Vietnamese, he said he didn’t know what was going on. A translator was never brought in, Mai-Lien Tran said.
A doctor later told her that her father was isolated because he showed symptoms of the virus and had traveled through infected areas, she said.
Vietnam recently confirmed a 16th case of the novel coronavirus, Reuters reported. Taiwan has 20 confirmed cases, including one death in Taipei, according to The Straits Times, a Singapore-based newspaper.
But Tran said he wasn’t in close contact with anyone infected with the virus and wasn’t exhibiting multiple common symptoms, which include a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath.
While his discharge papers note that he arrived at the emergency room with “shortness of breath and (a) cough for the last 2-3 days,” the report later says there was “no cough present” and no wheezing. It states Tran didn’t have a fever, sore throat, nasal congestion or headaches.
“He didn’t present any other symptoms other than shortness of breath, and you could see the reason right there,” Mai-Lien Tran said. “They were treating his liver cirrhosis … The fluid had built up and was pressing on his lungs.”
His medical report also said that he was “in hospitalization” for 15 days in Vietnam for “unclear” reasons. Mai-Lien Tran said while her dad visited a clinic while traveling, he was never hospitalized.
Kyle Dodd, spokesman for San Juan County Health and Community Services, said a person generally has to meet three criteria to be tested for coronavirus. They include showing symptoms of the virus, traveling to China in the last 14 days and being in close contact with a confirmed case.
“There was a lot of complex information and at the end of the day, it was determined that, yes, he met the criteria to be a person under investigation,” Dodd said.
He declined to confirm which standards Tran met.
Mai-Lien Tran said she and her sister, who grew up on Orcas Island, are angry.
While under quarantine, she said, her dad wasn’t sufficiently being treated for his liver condition because she was told the hospital needed to “avoid exposure to people.”
“I understand that this is a really scary virus,” she said. “But my dad didn’t have it. … There’s a lot of fear, but I still think that as a medical professional, you need to use a little common sense.”
Wayne Turnberg, a state health spokesman, said Tran’s isolation was “voluntary,” meaning that he agreed to be quarantined. His daughter disagreed.
Turnberg added that anyone traveling through or from mainland China could be tested if they exhibit symptoms, though health officials look at situations case by case. Travelers from “different parts of the world” could also be tested, he said.
“We are concerned about any sort of prejudicial treatment to anyone,” Turnberg said. “We do appreciate the cooperation of travelers.”
He declined to give more information about Tran’s case, citing patient-privacy concerns.
“Island Hospital and our clinics screen all patients for symptoms of respiratory illness and travel history consistent with current public-health guidelines,” the Anacortes medical center said in a statement. “If individuals have symptoms and meet certain travel or exposure conditions, public-health officials are immediately contacted.”
The statement said local county health departments, in consultation with state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, usually decide whether or not to quarantine a patient. Quarantines are implemented until test results come back, which Turnberg said can take three to five days.
Tran’s family is worried about whether they’ll get a bill for his extended stay at the Anacortes hospital.
“I know it does happen … but I’ve never really felt like I was discriminated against personally,” Mai-Lien Tran said. “And this was really, really heartbreaking for me. It’s already a sad thing when your parent is sick.”
Editor’s note: The comment thread on this story has been closed to new submissions because too many recent comments were violating our Code of Conduct.