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Tennessee’s ‘patient zero,’ a Biogen employee, comes forward to discuss ‘hysteria’ and ‘human kindness at its very best’

March 17, 2020 Eric Sagonowsky


The novel coronavirus case count stemming from Biogen’s late-February meeting in Boston has climbed to more than 100 globally, but behind each case is a story and a family. 

In Tennessee, the state’s self-described “patient zero” has decided to come forward and share his experience. Like others, 44-year-old Chris Baumgartner has witnessed “mass hysteria” in recent weeks, but he’s also seen “human kindness at its very best,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

The Biogen employee became Tennessee’s first confirmed case on March 5, the Tennessean reports. Like dozens of other Biogen meeting attendees, he contracted the infection that has caused more than 187,000 illnesses and more than 7,000 deaths worldwide in recent months.

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Baumgartner said his case has been “mild” and he’s continuing to recover. But mentally, he and his family have been forced to deal with “irrational panic, people demanding to know if you are the ‘one,’ where you live, and if you might have somehow infected their child or family,” he wrote.

“It’s given us a whole new appreciation for those who live under the cloud of stigma every single day of their lives,” he wrote. “If this is you, please know, you are not alone.” 

Following Biogen’s management confab, execs traveled to North Carolina, Europe, Indiana, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., NBC Boston reports

RELATED: With meeting case count rising above 70, Biogen tells attendees to prep for quarantine, isolate from loved ones 

And in Massachusetts, the meeting is tied to 100 cases, the Department of Health said Monday. That’s out of 197 total cases in the state. 

But aside from the hysteria, Baumgartner has also seen “an entire community rally behind us in our time of need.” Neighbors have been calling and texting to check in and praying for the family, plus bringing over meals, cards, groceries and games to play during the family’s quarantine, he wrote. The gestures have come from friends and complete strangers, he added.

“Inside us all lies the ability to decide how we choose to deal with the fear of the unknown, how we decide determines whether fear wins out or humanity shines through,” Baumgartner wrote. “We are so grateful to be surrounded by a community who chose the latter.”

RELATED: Did a Biogen staffer take her COVID-19 infection on a plane to Beijing? 

Baumgartner’s story follows closely behind news of another Biogen employee’s post-meeting experience, but her situation isn’t as uplifting. Police in Beijing on Monday said they were investigating a woman surnamed Li for potentially hiding symptoms and traveling to China with the COVID-19 illness. Biogen has since confirmed it believes she is a U.S.-based employee who attended the confab and traveled to China for personal reasons.

Biogen has pledged $10 million for the global response and to help communities affected by the pandemic.



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