SARS drives professor from Beijing
Legros in Beijing at Tiantan, the temple of heaven.
By Charlotte Crystal
summer, Jeff Legro and his family packed with great excitement
to spend a year in Beijing. On April 10, his wife and children
returned to the United States. And on May 2, Legro left as well.
by the spread of the SARS virus throughout Asia, the Chinese governments
lack of candor regarding the scope of the crisis and the strain
on Beijings medical infrastructure, Legro, associate professor
of politics at U.Va., and his wife, Janet, decided a few weeks
ago to pull their daughters out of the Beijing BISS International
School and send them home before the end of the school year.
was not telling the truth about the numbers, said Jeff Legro
by telephone from Beijing. We were watching the growing
number of SARS cases in Hong Kong, which has better medical facilities,
and they were having trouble controlling it. So, we decided that
since there are only two months left in the academic year, we
didnt want to push it.
Legros initially heard about the pneumonia-like disease during
a trip to Guangdong in February but thought it was restricted
to that urbanized southeastern province and Hong Kong. Then
the news started to snowball, Legro said.
kept abreast of the news by logging onto the Internet every day
at an Internet café or elsewhere. At first, our Chinese
friends poo-poohed our concerns, he said. But once
they began getting more information, they became more concerned.
tipped the balance for the Legros was learning that, while their
medical insurance provides for evacuation to Hong Kong, commercial
planes werent taking sick people aboard, Janet Legro said.
And the U.S. Embassy made it clear that if family members fell
ill, they couldnt be evacuated.
werent necessarily worried so much about SARS as about everything
else, she said. If anything happened to our kids,
if they fell off a scooter and were hurt, theyd have to
go to a Chinese hospital. And Chinese medical care isnt
bad, but we didnt want our kids to be in a Chinese hospital
far, at least 321 people, mostly in Asia, have died from severe
acute respiratory syndrome, according to the World Health Organization.
SARS is a highly contagious virus believed to have originated
in mainland China and spread to infect about 5,000 people worldwide.
World Health Organization reported on April 28 that the epidemic
seemed to have peaked in most of Asia, with the exception of mainland
China, where it still seemed to be on the rise. On April 30, The
Washington Post reported 1,199 SARS cases in Beijing, up from
350 a week earlier, and another 1,100 patients hospitalized with
suspected infections in Chinas capital city.
Legro had planned to stay in China to finish the semester but
threw in the towel on May 2. At this point, I just want
to see Janet and the kids, he said.
Legro was teaching American foreign policy and international relations
theory during a yearlong Fulbright at the Chinese Foreign Affairs
University. Run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to train future
Chinese diplomats, the university trains top Chinese students
for careers in foreign service.
postponing action for weeks, university officials finally moved
to discourage students from leaving the campus for spring break
and required those who did leave to spend 10 days in quarantine
on their return. But half of the students about 500
simply havent returned from spring break to finish the semester.
I think the university is just going to have to cancel the
spring semester, Legro said.
said that more than half of the 16 Fulbright scholars in China,
teachers in Shanghai and Beijing, have already left the country.
About half of the foreign scholars teaching with him at the Chinese
Foreign Affairs University will have left by this week. He plans
to finish teaching his class online, guiding his students
reading by e-mail and accepting their final papers
over the Web.
addition to teaching, Legro spent his time in China furthering
his research on major power relations. While he hasnt conducted
firsthand research in China, he said the experience will give
his work a new Asian dimension.
the Legros leased their house in Charlottesville to another family
for the academic year, Janet Legro returned with their daughters,
Madeline, 9, and Margaret, 5, to her parents house in Hillsboro,
N.H. Janet Legro, a minister with the Mount Olivet United Church
of Christ in Greene County, is home-schooling their children.
Legro said he planned to spend a week in self-imposed quarantine
at a friends cabin in New Hampshire before rejoining his
He added: All of the fun of China now is gone.