What happens when you test positive in one of the most remote corners of the world.
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IIt was a Friday afternoon in early spring and rather than board my flight back to New York, I was stuck in my room at a mountain hotel two hours from Ushuaia, Argentina. Under normal circumstances, that would have been fine. The lodge was located on a lake with pebble beaches, surrounded by towering ice-capped mountains, not far from the Alberto de Agostini National Park. It’s the kind of place outdoor adventurers could dream of exploring.
But I wasn’t there to hike the tree-lined trails or swim in the cold lake like most travelers do. I had been banished there, instructed to quarantine myself after contracting COVID on board a ship that had docked in Ushuaia two days prior. I had been to Antarctica, where I spent two weeks on a can’t-miss cruise experience watching whales, penguins and icebergs. The trip was, in short, otherworldly, like I had been teleported to another planet. But on the way back, reality quickly snowballed after my antigen test (needed to get back to Argentina) came back positive.
There are worse places to quarantine, I knew that. I was also fully aware of how much sicker I could have been, given that I only had fever, chills, and symptoms consistent with a bad head cold (although the first time I had COVID, I was asymptomatic). But despite that, the feeling I couldn’t get rid of was that of being desperately alone, of not knowing what was going to happen next.
When I first tested positive, after a mandatory antigen test to return to Argentina, I was quickly exiled to my ship’s cabin for two days. I sobbed. Then I ordered room service while awaiting further protocol information from the cruise line ground staff in Ushuaia. Once it was confirmed that I would need to quarantine for seven days (under Argentine law) before returning to the United States, I was quickly removed from the ship (along with six other passengers and a member crew who also tested positive) after the other passengers had disembarked and been transferred to a hotel as far away as possible, organized and covered by the cruise line.
For the first few days, I was asked to stay in my room, where I ordered meals via WhatsApp and gazed longingly at the distant lake. On the third day, we were allowed to go for walks, so I took long, slow walks with two or three of the other people in my “forties.” The fresh air and the company were invigorating. By day six, my test was still positive, which meant I couldn’t return to the United States, even though I had almost no symptoms. The shipping company gave me details to keep a medical certificate (which I did over the phone via WhatsApp), which would confirm my period of isolation as well as the absence of symptoms and allow me to return home.
Everything turned out OK in the end and other than a bit of emotional trauma, I was fine. But honestly, contracting COVID in a foreign country can be terrifying. With so many destinations following different rules, which are constantly changing, it’s hard to know what the outcome will be if your test comes back positive. Add the stress of being in an unfamiliar place where people may speak a language you don’t understand, and the fact that you are carrying a potentially deadly virus, and it all adds up to a heartbreaking ordeal.
one of many
As restrictions ease and more people travel, contracting COVID while you’re around the world is a reality that isn’t going away any time soon. I am one of many unhappy travelers who found themselves staring sadly at an antigen test with two angry red lines, stuck far from home and forced to stay put.
Writer Shana Clarke, who contracted COVID on a work trip to Spain earlier this year, said: ‘The scariest thing was the health part and the physical stuff because you don’t know how COVID is going progress.” After experiencing allergy-like symptoms, Clarke took a test which came back positive shortly after arriving in Spain. “For the most part, it’s still an unknown disease, so I was nervous, what if I got really sick? My Spanish is basic. It’s really that fear of next steps,” she adds.
Luckily, Clarke was able to change her United flight easily (and without a change fee) and the host who arranged her trip was able to fit her into a hotel room with a kitchenette, as well as bring groceries for her. It was as comfortable a setup as quarantining alone in a foreign country can get. But when she arrived at the hotel, quarantine requirements in Spain changed and people who did not show symptoms, even if they tested positive, were allowed out. “I started going out for walks on the sixth day and breathing in the fresh air, while keeping in mind the presence of others. [But] I had to be careful because my heart rate was getting faster,” she says.
Despite Spain’s demands, Clarke still could not return to the United States. At the time, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wouldn’t allow travelers to return to the county until they were quarantined for 10 days or tested negative. (which he missed). “It’s frustrating how countries are dealing with it,” Clarke says. “There is no unifying idea of what quarantine or travel should look like. It makes things really difficult. After being quarantined for 10 days and receiving a doctor’s letter as proof, as well as a negative antigen, she was finally able to fly back to New York.
Nicolette Dantas, a Los Angeles-based freelance marketing consultant, didn’t even reach her final destination until she tested positive. While en route to India, where she and her fiancé were traveling to visit family she hadn’t seen in two years, Dantas tested positive during her layover in Dubai (which required a test). “I tested negative before my flight from LAX to Dubai, [so] I was shocked to receive positive results upon landing in Dubai,” she says.
Fortunately, Dantas was able to stay in his cousin’s empty apartment. They were then contacted by Dubai’s health department and asked to download the COVID-19-DXB smart app, where they could register their 10-day quarantine. “For the next 10 days, my fiancé and I stayed in my cousin’s hotel suite. No matter how luxurious the accommodations were, each day was filled with anxiety and fear, and complete boredom. she says, adding that she was lucky to have very few symptoms, which she attributes to being vaccinated and boosted.
But despite a comfortable setup, the assumptions remained. “After the initial shock and disappointment of not being able to see my family, fear crept around the rules and regulations of contracting COVID-19 in a foreign country. I was very afraid that I would not test negative after the required quarantine and the impact this would have on my ability to leave Dubai in time to see my family in India and/or return to the United States,” she says. . After the isolation period, they received a certificate of completion and were free to go.
Not an insurmountable obstacle
Clarke, Dantas and I were lucky enough not to be seriously ill and able to self-quarantine in comfortable facilities. Traveling with the cruise line meant my hotel, food and transfer costs were covered. Scott Dunn, a travel specialist who had booked my flights, was also able to help me rebook (I had to be re-routed via Miami as there were no direct flights from Buenos Aires to New York that day there) as well as sorting out transfers and a hotel for me in Buenos Aires, where I had to lie down.
Having someone else to figure out the logistics when you’re in this situation is a luxury. But it was still far from ideal. The only silver lining is that once a traveler has received a certificate proving they have recovered from COVID (which they must show airlines, along with their positive test results), they can enter many countries without the required PCR or antigen. up to 90 days. (Research has also shown that you carry greater immunity for several months after contracting COVID, which means traveling can feel a bit more carefree.)
The horrible isolation experience, however, did not stop me from traveling. Although I spent extra days with weak WiFi in a foreign country, which had a ripple effect and scrambled my schedule ahead, I have since traveled to Africa and Mexico , among other international destinations. For me, traveling is not always a choice, but a job. The same goes for Clarke and Dantas. Dantas also has no plans to stop traveling anytime soon. But his experience is a cautionary tale. “Next time, I will research the quarantine rules of my destination and my stopover destination and have a backup plan,” she says. “Most importantly, I will remember that I succeeded. I’m going [also] invest in a Kindle.
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