Surprise! Catching COVID Overseas

This is a story of traveling to Europe in May 2022. Two couples, two destinations, two very different outcomes. Who would triumph over COVID, and who would end up “journaling” while quarantined in a small hotel room?

Europe was experiencing a large surge in COVID cases. At that time, the US still required a test to re-enter the country. The smart option was to cancel the trip. After carefully reviewing the facts, we concluded with 100% certainty that we did not feel like staying home anymore. My husband and I flew to Italy, and my brother and his wife visited Ireland.

As many of you know, the United States was divided into two camps for the past few years–those who believe in science, and those who yearn for the 1400s before germ theory emerged. All of my siblings are firmly in the camp of those who trust in vaccines, masking, and listening to brilliant scientists. I would throw my bra at Dr. Anthony Fauci if he were appearing on stage (#FauciFanGirl). Unlike some of our fellow Americans, we knew the risks. Yet, we loaded up on hand sanitizer and boarded the planes.

My husband and I traveled throughout Italy for two weeks. We masked in every shared indoor space–be it a museum, a tour, a train, a plane or a hotel hallway. We ate every meal outside in the beautiful Italian weather. There was nothing left undone on our tourist wishlist, but, along the way, we adhered to the best advice that science could bestow upon us. We felt great at every stop in our itinerary–the Italian Riviera, Florence, Lake Como, and Rome.

The moment of truth came the day before we flew home. We found a nearby pharmacy that would administer our tests. On the fateful walk to the pharmacy, we talked about what would happen if we tested positive. Meanwhile, my brother and his wife were having a wonderful time in Ireland. They were participating in a bus tour with my sister-in-law’s relatives around the Emerald Isle. They were careful people who wore masks on planes, but it was difficult to eat every meal outside in rainy Ireland or while enjoying a pint in a pub. They, too, were facing their testing day of reckoning to re-enter the United States.

So, who tested positive? Me or my brother? I’ll give you a moment to place your bets.

Here is a clue. This is an example of a negative COVID test report from Italy:

My brother felt the beginning of a scratchy throat in Killarney. As my husband and I flew home happily negative, my brother and his wife started their quarantine journey in Ireland. I asked my brother to keep a journal for all of us. Here is his report:

Day 1:
What do you do when you feel off while abroad? First, you chalk it up to allergies or tiredness. You take an allergy pill and a nap. Then you awaken feeling worse. The results are quick, almost immediate. You, my friend, have COVID. Your vacation is over! COVID is here, and it will get you sooner or later if you are traveling.

Now, it’s time to declare that you have COVID with the hotel. Prepare for a hard lockdown. [Ireland required isolating for seven days after a positive test result and then masking for three more.] You could try to be quiet and stealthy, but that could cause you legal problems. Questions arise such as: “Where did you spend your isolation period? Did you ever leave your room? Did you come into contact with anyone else?” Other countries love making examples of self-absorbed Americans. It’s not worth it.

You need to have a talk with your travel partner. Your partner or the group must come to terms with their new cellmates. Acknowledge that this is a crappy situation. You all need to move through the seven stages of grief as quickly as possible. Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Processing Grief. Actually, I recommend just focusing on Acceptance. You do not want to be stuck in a room with a crying or despondent person for six more days. Be extra careful of boundaries and crank up your empathy. Try to avoid selfish emotional outbursts.

Download multiple seasons of a funny show. Comedy is what you need. Laughing exercises your lungs and helps get the gunk out.

Day 2
At this point, I hope you have decent internet to read newspapers, scan social media, and stream videos. Even then, the walls of your 200 square foot room will start to feel constricting. Order room service for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stay in and sleep. Take your meds. I hope you brought a Kindle.

The Jail Cell

Day 3
You might start skipping a meal, because you are doing nothing but lying or sitting around. The hotel is not your house. You miss your dog, cat, yoga mat, xbox, TV, and, especially, your high-speed internet. You think about how much more comfortable your house would have been while sick with COVID. Your house does not cost extra $$$ each day. You have your own food in the cupboard. The hotel you are staying in does not even have a refrigerator. The cold and flu medications are not the same in this country. You are probably on your third day of a Sudafed (or at least you think it is Sudafed), so your sleep is restless and your mind is fogged.

The walls are closing in and you are suffocating. Ok, it’s not that bad, but you are feeling stir crazy. Hold it together and keep the demons away. Because, the demons are in the room, and you can see them. Take a long shower each day. Take your time shaving and brushing your teeth. Keep the room tidy. The little chores might bring normalcy.

Day 4
This is the hump day. You might start feeling better, but you are still infectious. Stay in and avoid all other humans. You might think that a walk outside is a good idea and will make you feel better. Don’t do it! You are still a COVID superspreader. Remember to take your COVID rapid test, you might be negative today!

Some countries have strong isolation policies, but they allow you to go outside if you have a private area. My second-floor room overlooked a lovely courtyard. So, I spent an hour contemplating the sheet-to-comforter ratio for making a rope ladder.

Day 5
Today, you are feeling better. You realize that your bed has nasty, sweaty COVID sheets. Ask for fresh linens. This takes time and gives you purpose. Congratulations, you have a clean bed. You also have enough sheets for your rope ladder! Your COVID positive test line is beginning to fade. The prison term is about to come to a close. If, by chance, you are with others, you must keep your joy tamped down. Their tests might still be quite positive. Remember the empathy part I mentioned on Day 1?

The Window. For the Rope Ladder.

Day 6
Another day in the same room. Now you are into a routine. Wake up. Check your phone. Order room service. Watch the news. At noon, take another COVID rapid test. Maybe today the test will be a full negative.

Day 7
Congratulations, you are free!

Final Thoughts:
Room service. It might seem like a great concept. After relying on it for seven days, the shortcomings became maddening. It’s never right. Not 100%. They will forget utensils, condiments, napkins. They will bring only half of what you ordered. One time, they delivered my ice cream for dessert 15 minutes prior to the main course. Another time, they did not bring cups or milk with the coffee and tea. You ask for new towels and a few rolls of toilet paper. You only receive hand towels. The staff is nice and helpful, but they are not perfect. Also, even if you are feeling better and no longer have symptoms, I would avoid ordering alcoholic drinks. You are still stuck in a room, and you do not need anything to encourage bad decision-making.

Many thanks to my brother for writing his journal. I’d like to say that no brothers were harmed in the making of this post, but he did get COVID. So, the best I can say is that his pain was our gain.

Categories: COVID Travel, Ireland, Travel

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