You went on a trip. And you have COVID. Now what?
This was the topic of our Coronavirus FAQ last week. We asked people how they were handling the situation. Did they follow Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to self-quarantine and wait 10 days before flying? Or did they travel anyway, even if they can infect others?
I myself have been in this dilemma. And it seems many other NPR readers have been, too. We were inundated with nearly 5,000 responses via Instagram, Facebook, email and Twitter.
Many readers shared that they couldn’t afford the extra expenses of quarantine or couldn’t miss work for a week, so they traveled sick. They warned that getting the antiviral pill Paxlovid or even a pulse oximeter could be a challenge in some countries. And for those who were able to self-quarantine, many said they were frustrated at having to change or cancel their travel plans. and meet unforeseen expenses.
Here is a sample of reader responses, edited for length and clarity.
“I felt bad while flying, but I did my best”
“I tested positive for COVID on the last day of my trip about a month ago, and honestly couldn’t afford to stay at my destination in a hotel. did my best not to share my COVID I triple masked [with a] regular mask, N95 and cloth mask and I isolated myself as much as possible at the airport and then was chosen a seat in the back of the plane by others who were masked. I didn’t drink anything during my flight and faced the window the whole time. I know it’s not ideal, but it was the best solution I had due to my personal situation!” – Noelle
“It was a crazy adventure”
“On the day of a return flight, I woke up at 5 a.m. with worsening respiratory symptoms and congestion and [I was] just feeling crummy. Luckily I had prepared a quick COVID test so I took one thinking I was being too careful. It was positive! Within an hour, I called the rental car company to change my return time and location, checked out of my hotel, and began the 14+ hour drive from Denver to Indianapolis. . I made 4 gas stops and went to gas stations twice while wearing an N95 mask. I skipped the meal stop and snacked on Goldfish crackers and candy. I finally arrived at Indianapolis International Airport at midnight, left the rental car and drove my own car home. Luckily my symptoms weren’t bad, but it was a wild ride.” -Emma Tillman
“It’s with your conscience that you have to live”
“My in-laws from Florida came to visit me and the family for a trip to the Tetons. We all had a great time.” Then her stepfather tested positive for COVID.
“So began the embarrassing tension over what to do next. I picked up the CDC guidelines saying they shouldn’t travel and reassess their symptoms before rescheduling their flight. I voiced my opinion that it’s irresponsible to fly when you know you have COVID. This was met with downcast looks and loud sighs. The truth also came out that they weren’t wearing masks on their previous flights or in airports, even though we asked them to do so.
Her in-laws called the airline to ask if they could fly with COVID. The answer: “It’s not recommended, but yes, you can fly and wear a mask.”
“The in-laws asked, ‘Will you be mad at us if we fly?’ We said yes, disappointed, but you have to live with your conscience, not ours.” – Masked name
“We are separated”
“My boyfriend was at a conference. Then he felt ill and tested positive. He consulted everyone for advice on the flight home (everyone except me, because he knew I would say absolutely not).
Once he made up his mind to fly home, he texted me, “I’m coming home.” To which I told him I was disappointed in him.
My disappointment led him to rent a car and drive home instead of flying. Yay!
But he ghosted me, then dumped me. Boo! We’ve talked since. But yes, we are separated.” –Patty (surname withheld on request)
“This experience led us to hide our COVID status”
“Accommodation managers WILL turn you away if you tell them you have COVID. This happened to us on the first day of vacation abroad. Some of us tested positive. I wanted to be honest about our situation so when we arrived I immediately told the owner of the B&B that two of our party had tested positive that morning and we were going to self isolate in our rooms She scolded us for not canceling the reservation earlier and told us to leave immediately. This experience led us to hide our COVID status and simply continue with our itinerary, self-isolate in the two remaining accommodations we had booked. We feared that doing something else would put us homeless.” – Mary K. Holland
“COVID exposure…it basically sucks”
“Our family of 4 embarked on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Throughout our trip, we wore KN95 masks everywhere (my sons even wore them outside), but hardly anyone else didn’t wear a mask.”
The youngest son has tested positive – and the family had planned a trip to celebrate his mother’s 75th birthdaye birthday. “Our plans were to see a musical in San Francisco and a nice celebratory dinner – canceled, of course. After almost 4 hours of driving, we met my parents in masks, in the parking lot of the restaurant (the sick child remained in the car) I handed my mum her presents while she gave me two boxes of COVID tests and we left heartbroken and sad.”
“Stuck without accommodation, we found a local hotel and booked 2 hotel rooms.
“The Bottom Line: Exposure to COVID always alienates you from loved ones, cancels celebrations, can be costly, and basically sucks.” – Stacie Bresler
‘Lesson learned. Wear your masks
“My wife and I recently took our family on a driving tour of Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Parks ending in Las Vegas. The parks were very busy and we let our guard down by not wearing our masks. My adult grandson wore his in confined situations. In Las Vegas, my wife and I were positive and my granddaughter was negative. We isolated ourselves from her and immediately packed our bags and drove to home. We underestimated this infection by not wearing our masks when needed. Lesson learned. Wear your masks indoors or around large masses of people, such as parks. Be especially careful of commuters in these parks. They’re packed, with most people not wearing masks. I wish we all wore our masks when needed and not make it political.” –Thomas McFadden
“It is worth considering the worst-case scenarios”
“It’s so tempting to assume things will be fine – because that’s often the case. But when they’re not, it’s much better if you’ve made contingency plans. Especially when traveling to less developed destinations, it pays to consider the worst case scenarios and plan accordingly.” –Steve McCall
“I felt like a little boy again”
“I finally arrived in Australia to see my mum. I hadn’t seen her since 2019 due to COVID. I went to her house – and 4 days later we all had COVID. We had to cancel a Lots of plans, but we spent the day napping, watching movies and coloring in. I felt like a sick little kid again at home with my mom. — Stephanie Rhone
Thank you to everyone who shared your personal stories with us. For more calls like these, stay in touch with NPR Goats and Soda by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.