Travails of St. Mary's students gather international attention

Travails of St. Mary's students gather international attention

Students from St. Mary's School who have been quarantined twice in China while officials try to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus have become media celebrities back home.

NBC News featured the quarantined kids in its national newscast Tuesday, and CNN did a satellite interview with one of the teacher/chaperones. Telemundo, the Spanish language network, interviewed several Spanish-speaking parents. They have previously been featured on the BBC and MSNBC.

NBC included video of the Medford students wearing surgical masks and waving from their hotel rooms.

Reporter Adrienne Mong recounted the story of the quarantines that disrupted the students' plans to study Chinese language and culture.

"It was supposed to be the ultimate summer vacation," Mong said in the video, "but almost from the moment they landed in the capital it hasn't gone as planned."

The high-school-age students were first quarantined in Beijing for a week beginning July 17, shortly after they arrived in China. Just days later their release they were quarantined again when a student tested positive for the virus, this time in the city of Dengfeng, in densely populated Henan province.

The kids' brief taste of celebrity will most likely end Friday. Six students in the group of 64 remained hospitalized Tuesday, but Frank Phillips, the school's headmaster, said Tuesday he'd received official notice from the Chinese Ministry of Education that the others could depart China as planned and return to Oregon Friday.

"Yesterday they tested everybody and the rest were cleared," Phillips said.

How long the hospitalized students and one chaperone who will remain with them may have to remain in China was unclear. Some might have to stay after the others leave before they can be cleared by Chinese health officials, Phillips said.

Phillips said five of the students who have been hospitalized have had very mild symptoms. "They said they felt a little flushed," he said.

He said the other student felt ill, but not as sick as someone might be with regular seasonal influenza.

The NBC video identified Mackenzie Krieser as one of the students who has been hospitalized. Krieser, a member of the school's soccer, basketball and track teams, just finished her sophomore year.

China has been aggressively checking foreign travelers for any symptoms of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, since May. People who had a fever or flu-like symptoms have been quarantined.

In his interview with CNN, teacher Scott Dewing said the H1N1 virus "is a public health concern that has to be addressed."

Cameron McCandless, whose daughter, Meghan, is traveling with the group, said some parents have been encouraging their children to take Tylenol regularly to keep down any incipient fevers.

McCandless said the students have been given computers again, so they're busy communicating with friends and family.

"That's probably the best thing they could have given them," she said.

McCandless said the quarantines have been frustrating for the kids, but a good life lesson, too.

"This won't be the last frustration in their lives," she said.

She said some of the kids have already happened on a way to make the best of their experience. "They're saying 'This is going to make a great college entrance essay.'"

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or

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