Ashlyn OswaltAshlyn Oswalt contracted Covid while on holiday in the US.
It had been three years since I last set foot in the United States, and a week into our trip back home, my partner complained of a sore throat.
We’d been on the go – seeing family and touring around the Midwest since we landed, so I chalked his complaint up to our hectic schedule. He took a rapid antigen test anyway, just to be safe, and returned a negative result. We both presumed a little extra rest would have him feeling tip-top the next day.
We were wrong. The morning brought no improvement and I started feeling wretched, too. More RATs confirmed we were both positive, sealing our fate of spending the next few days lying in bed, fighting off aches. I felt like a kid again as my mom delivered hot tea and lemon water to my childhood bedroom at regular intervals.
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While the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC recommend an isolation period of five days after a positive test, nothing is mandatory or enforceable. There was a requirement to wear masks on the plane and at the airport, but we noticed mask usage around the Midwest was relaxed to non-existent – a stark contrast to New Zealand.
While we weren’t planning on leaving our bed anytime soon, we started to panic about our return journey. Although four weeks away, we worried about getting long Covid and testing positive for our mandatory pre-departure flight back into New Zealand.
Ricky Wilson/StuffAshlyn Oswalt and her partner both tested positive for Covid while holidaying in the US, where there is little information and help for those with the virus.
In a feverish haze, we consulted the Ministry of Health’s website, messaged the ‘Unite Against Covid-19’ Facebook page, and wrote to our travel agent for advice.
The official Covid-19 site says travellers require a “medical certificate confirming the date of your positive pre-departure test -either a PCR test taken a maximum of 48 hours of your first international flight, or a supervised RAT or LAMP test taken a maximum of 24 hours of your first international flight” – as well as “documentation stating you are no longer infectious with Covid-19”.
Our travel agent recommended assuming we’d be positive for our pre-departure test and recommended booking a doctor visit the day of our flight out of LA. A Facebook message back from ‘Unite Against Covid-19’ mimicked the official Covid-19 website. We felt lost.
There isn’t an official registry of positive cases in the States like there is in New Zealand. Aside from a photo of our positive RAT tests we sent to friends, we didn’t have any record of when we first tested positive. If we were still positive before our flight, how could we prove to a doctor that our case was historic?
There was no information on where to go to find said doctors, and no-one seemed to have helpful answers. We were flying out of LA and the thought of running around the city trying to find a doctor 24 hours before our flight made us both ill.
After a bit of research, we decided to log our positive tests onto New Zealand’s My Covid Record, which would at least give us an official positive date for New Zealand. We also booked a free, supervised RAT at Walgreens, the local pharmacy, for the next day. This gave us an official American email with a positive date to help us prove our historic cases.
Luckily, our symptoms improved days later and we were able to continue on our family road trip as planned, but not without a few sacrifices. Our sickness and recovery meant we missed out on many things I’d been waiting three years for – cooking pasta with my grandparents, spending a night out on the town with my brother and his wife, and popping into old workplaces to say hello.
Not knowing when I’d have the chance to come home again made sacrifices like this tough. Having to say goodbye to my grandparents with masks on and six feet between us consumes me with sadness just thinking about it.
Ultimately, our worry was futile. We tested negative weeks before our flight and our mandatory pre-departure test at LAX went by without a hitch. I was grateful we contracted Covid at the beginning of our trip while we were holed up at my parent’s house – thanks Mom and Dad – instead of having to panic at the end in LA, but it placed a difficult reminder of how difficult these last few years have been for everyone, especially expats.
While I spent days lying in my room trying to recover, I counted the minutes I wouldn’t get back with the family that was just beyond the door, down the street, or at least in the same country. It was a stark reminder of the sacrifices that come with living so far from home.