SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Local lawmakers are working to bring a family home from China where more than 2,700 people have died in the coronavirus outbreak.
Nick Turner, of Savannah, said he and his wife Dong Lei celebrated their son’s first birthday in quarantine in Zhengzhou, China on Tuesday.
While Mr. Turner and 1-year-old Evan Turner are American citizens, their wife and mother is in need of a green card to be able to move back to the U.S. with them.
“We are losing our ability to leave as this continues to spread or get worse,” Nick Turner told WSAV.com Now. “Airlines are restricting flights, transportation options through China are also restricted and as time passes, there is an increased risk from the virus.”
The Turner family is living about 340 miles from the city of Wuhan where the new coronavirus strain, or COVID-19, first exploded in December.
“We are staying safe inside as is the rest of our city. Our city is not nearly as affected as Wuhan,” Nick Turner said.
“We have food even though it is difficult to get and there are less options available,” he continued. “Zhengzhou is a huge city and fortunately, relative to its size, there have been few people affected here.”
Nick Turner applauded the work of Chinese officials, doctors and nurses who are working to contain the outbreak “using excellent safety protocol.”
“This has been effective, however, the virus still should not be underestimated,” he added. “It has caused a lot of damage and has the potential to do more.
“I will be more worried about getting sick if we do not leave soon and if this continues to spread as trends suggest.”
He mentioned other countries have allowed citizens with Chinese spouses who had not yet obtained a visa to get back to their home country.
“We just want them back on our soil,” Gay Forston, Nick Turner’s second cousin, told News 3 last week.
“When they started sounding very alarmed, of course, my whole family went into action immediately,” she said.
Rep. Buddy Carter, of Georgia’s 1st District, and a spokesperson for Georgia Sen. David Perdue said they have been in contact with the Turner family about their situation.
On the phone with WSAV.com Now Wednesday, Carter said he is working with Perdue, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to expedite the green card process for Dong Lei Turner.
The congressman said she has filed Form I-130, which is the first step in helping an eligible relative apply to immigrate to the U.S.
“Naturally this would take longer than most visas, but we’ve been working with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to expedite this,” Carter said.
“The delay is being compounded somewhat by what’s going on with the coronavirus,” he added. “That adds kind of another layer of difficulty to the situation.”
In some cases, Form I-130 petitions could take months to be approved but Carter couldn’t give an exact time frame for Mrs. Turner’s.
Nick Turner said he’s very grateful for the help.
“I am trying to be proactive and avoid a life-threatening situation to our baby and my wife,” he said.
“I also want people to get the right idea, that we are not in high-immediate danger of becoming ill,” Mr. Turner added. “The main problem is that this is spreading.”
According to the World Health Organization, outside of China, there are now 2,790 cases in 37 countries and 44 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday confirmed 15 COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Read more stories on the outbreak and local impacts at wsav.com/coronavirus