Leaving the U.S. is Easier Now—It’s Getting Back That Could Be the Problem
With vaccinations increasing, more and more Americans are heading abroad. To get back, they need to get tested—and some are finding out how tough it can be if you test positive.
Imagine that perfect tropical beach vacation—the kind with tranquil, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches shaded by palm trees. You’ve got a few days of drinking and relaxing in your sights, and some shops and local adventures that you want to hit later in the day, before drinking and relaxing near the water some more in the evening.
South of its partying cousin, Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a lazier, low-pressure getaway that could be such a place. But as Diana Schmidt recently discovered, vacation plans for those who test positive for COVID-19 can turn a chill vacation into a complicated mess.
“We were excited to come down here,” Schmidt tells The Daily Beast. “I’ve never stayed at an all-inclusive in Mexico.” She is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital in Minnesota and she was joining her daughter for a spring break trip at the Panama Jack Resort.
Originally, the trip was going to be three girls and their mothers.
“One mom ended up testing positive. She was smart. She pre-tested,” said Schmidt, “which I would highly recommend people traveling, to pre-test, especially if you have to do a test before you return. You want to know that you’re negative before you can leave.”
Originally, she was considering a trip to Florida, but was seeing how crowded it was and, since she was already vaccinated and her daughter already had COVID in October, Mexico seemed safer.
“We flew in on a Saturday, March 27, and by Monday, kind of had a little bit of a sore throat,” she said. She had attributed it to sleeping in air-conditioning and going in and out of the heat. That then turned into a cough, body aches, and fever. She had her required COVID test screening that Thursday morning in preparation for her flight home. By the time she walked back to the pool from testing, the hotel was already confirming she was positive.
While vaccines protect the vaccinated and minimize the effects if you catch COVID-19, they do not prevent someone from spreading it to others.
She was told to head back to her room and a guard was waiting for her. The next day they moved her to their quarantine quarters, where she was the lone guest. She says the resort hadn’t yet had a case of quarantine.
Like Schmidt, other travelers are boldly venturing out on vacations, especially post-vaccine, to find a breath of fresh air outside of their homes. With many countries lifting travel restrictions, people are running to the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. The U.S. recently lifted many of its travel requirements for those traveling domestically and those leaving the country. But the catch is that if you test positive in a country while you’re there, you still have to quarantine. The U.S. will also not allow you to return without a negative test within three days of your flight.
Stories of those who found themselves stuck quarantining in another country due to positive tests are not skyrocketing, but they are becoming more common as more people take the risk. With Mexico being a popular pandemic destination, many of the quarantine stories are coming from there. Take for instance, a Boise, Idaho, man who tested positive only two days into his trip. He, along with his partner, both had to quarantine. In cases where travelers have not made their own arrangements, quarantining may be subject to government facilities and predetermined costs.
Quarantine quarters, as you might guess, are not as nice as the other rooms.
“You know, you’re looking at this beautiful resort, and you don’t get the sunshine. I had a sliver every morning, so I made sure I was up early. I have a little bit of a balcony, and I could step outside, which I was grateful for. So, it’s just super over-the-top depressing.”
She felt isolated, but she was able to Zoom with friends and with family on Easter Sunday—she originally planned to be back by then. She found herself going into panic mode. “Boy, this has been just so incredibly stressful,” she said, “many tears every day.”
Some foresight, however, did help lessen the blow.
She’s happy that she bought the COVID insurance package the resort offered, which was $30 per person and it covered the entire stay for 14 days and meals. The rest of her group tested negative and returned home, otherwise they’d have had to pay to stay longer.
She was on her own, but has nothing but positive things to say about the staff.
“They were so good to me,” she said. They gave her a QR code for the restaurants, and she was able to order anything she needed from the menus. The staff of Panama Jack Resort tried to make her stay as painless as possible.
“People ask me, ‘Weren’t you bored?’” She says she slept for the first three days. “I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. And then, once you start to feel good, you’re like, wow, like, I really need to work on my exit plan and how I’m going to get home.” Two doctors visited her, requiring cash out-of-pocket, and both gave her different answers as to how to be cleared for leaving. Doctor visit costs were unpredictable. One doctor charged her $30 and another $100.
A woman in Cancun who heard about her situation reached out. She was there with her teenage daughter who tested positive. “She sent me a message on Facebook,” said Schmidt, “and as it turns out I actually went to high school with her.”
On Thursday, Schmidt was finally cleared for a flight home, with her new-old friend and her daughter joining her. “So she ended up booking a return flight with me today. So, we’re all there together, at least, trying to support each other.”
When asked if she’d do it again, she says no, but she definitely needs a vacation “redo.”