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‘I Feel Helpless’: GSU Professor Discusses Professional, Personal Impact Of Coronavirus Outbreak

Georgia State University professor Chenyi Zhang shares how the global coronavirus outbreak has affected research projects between students in China and the U.S.
Georgia State University professor Chenyi Zhang shares how the global coronavirus outbreak has affected research projects between students in China and the U.S.
Credit Lisa Rayam / WABE

Chenyi Zhang, an assistant professor in Georgia State University’s education department, is in a busy coffee shop preparing for one of his classes.

He groans, stressed, when asked about dealing with the deadly coronavirus outbreak in both his professional and personal life.

The new coronavirus disease COVID-19 — first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China — has infected more than 76,000 people and caused global panic: Travel has been banned; cities have been quarantined, and economies have suffered.

“For me, I feel helpless,” said Zhang, who was born and raised in China and has been in the United States for the last 15 years.

Emory Drug
Emory researchers are developing a new drug, EIDD 2801, that could be an effective treatment for the 2019 novel coronavirus. (Sam Whitehead/WABE)

He’s also been involved with a number of research projects between China and the U.S., and he says some study abroad programs in China were canceled this year due to the outbreak.

Many foreign teachers in partnership with Georgia State, he says, are in and around Wuhan. They told Zhang the quarantine pretty much happened overnight without much warning from Chinese authorities.

 “So, by the time they knew, they couldn’t figure out a way to get out of the country, to get out of China. It was too late for them,” Zhang said.

 “The only way I could help is to call those teachers, talk to them and let them freely express their emotions.”

 Zhang also fears for his family members and friends under quarantine.

 He says what he calls a radical quarantine policy feels familiar to those who lived through the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak. That year, SARS spread from China into 29 countries, infecting 8,096 people and killing 774.

 Zhang spoke with “Morning Edition” host Lisa Rayam about his students’ frustrations and stalled research projects.