I knew it wasn’t a good idea when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to no longer require proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 prior to boarding.
It didn’t sound like a smart move. How would any of us know if the person next to, in front of, or behind us was truly COVID-free? This decision, coupled with the newly lifted mask mandate for flying, seemed irresponsible on the government’s part.
Still, my husband and I prepared for our June 19th flight back to the States.
They say you attract what you fear, so I tried not to think about how many people did or did not wear masks in each overcrowded airport. I can’t say with accuracy how many times I actually wore my mask while standing in the TSA line. Sometimes, I did. Sometimes, I didn’t, which was irresponsible on my part.
But here we all were, boarding a plane, trusting none of us were infected.
As we ascended higher and clouds floated by, my fears eased. There was no reason to worry. Just as I relaxed, I heard it.
“Atchoo!” then a sniffle. Then another, “Atchoo!”
The guy to our right and two rows back had an uncontrollable sneeze. Because I’m not very discreet, I looked back at him to see what he’d do next. Turns out, he didn’t have a tissue, so he used his sleeve.
That’s when I went into full panic mode, looped my mask around my ears, and kept it there unless I needed to sip water or eat. And it’s a good thing, too. Another guy to the left, one row back had an uncontrollable cough.
These two continued through the eight-hour flight, like a ping-pong match: atchoo, hack-hack-hack, atchoo, hack-hack-hack.
I knew right then I was gonna get COVID.
Anywho, we arrived at JFK late Sunday evening, where unmasked travelers were not only sniffling, coughing, and touching things, but also piled on top of one another as if we weren’t in a pandemic.
By the time we landed in Florida Sunday night, I was so happy to be back that I put the previous twenty-four hours behind me. All that mattered was that we’d made it home.
Wednesday, I woke up with a sore throat and runny nose. Could I have COVID? I thought. I don’t have COVID, I hoped. I just have a cold. So, I went about my day as usual.
Thursday, I woke up and felt as if I’d been hit by a truck. My body was achy, my voice was raspy due to the sore throat, my nose wouldn’t stop running, and my temperature was 100.7. My husband did the COVID test for me. You know—the one the US government sent to everyone in the little orange box? Fifteen minutes later, the test was negative.
Friday, I was healed. Maybe my body was just getting used to US germs I reasoned. I felt fine, so I went about the rest of the weekend with regular activity: grocery shopping, working out, etc.
The following Monday I had the hit-by-a-truck feeling again, and Tuesday, I could barely keep my eyes open. This time, I went to the clinic. Thirty minutes later, the doctor came in and announced that I was, indeed, positive.
“How long have you had symptoms?” he asked.
“Since last Wednesday.”
“That’s odd you’re still testing positive,” he said. “But you’re out of the quarantine period, which is five days now. You’re not contagious anymore. All you have to do is wear a mask if you go out, and don’t take a PCR test for three months; otherwise, you’re gonna test positive again,” he said while handing me two printed pages of COVID-positive protocols.
His advice sounded strange. But who was I to argue with the CDC and the doctor?
My case was mild. Within two weeks, I was fully recovered.
I can’t say with certainty that I contracted COVID on the international flight home; however, it makes sense. COVID-19 is known to appear 2-14 days after exposure. Flying all day on a Sunday and waking up sick on Wednesday, makes the plane the logical place to have been exposed.
However, something else seems logical to me. Restrictions are important. I’ve traveled internationally three times over the past two years and have never contracted COVID while in another country or on a flight, but in the past, there were always rules in place.
While I take full responsibility for not wearing a mask the entire travel day, I maintain the no-mask, no-COVID test for re-entry rules are partially to blame. This experience makes me think the following should happen:
- The six-feet, social distancing rule should be implemented at the airport.
- Masks should be mandated at the airport.
- Masks should be mandated on airplanes, especially because the negative COVID test rule is over.
Because the above will probably never be reinstated, maybe we should all take personal responsibility and at least wear masks in the airport and on our flight. It seems like the least we can do if we’re going to be moving about the world during a pandemic.
Post-script: I have been vaccinated. I have been boosted. You cannot move between countries, unless you have been. However, I now completely understand that part of the purpose of vaccinations and boosters is so that you’re not hospitalized (because most countries don’t have the capacity). It has little to do with protecting you from getting COVID.