It’s a difficult situation that could easily happen to anyone planning to travel after getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Diane Schmidt is a nurse practitioner at Children’s Minnesota and says she’s been fully vaccinated since the end of January. On March 27th, she decided to fly down to Mexico to celebrate her daughter’s senior trip and upcoming graduation with several other moms.
The CDC says it’s safe for vaccinated people to travel outside the U.S. but there’s a slight chance they could still contract COVID-19.
Now Diane Schimdt is trapped in quarantine until she gets the all clear to go home.
The Never-Ending Vacation
Diane Schmidt thought she was doing everything right. After getting vaccinated, she thought it was safe to go down to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico to celebrate. One mother and daughter had to back out right before the trip after testing positive for COVID-19, but Schmidt decided to go anyhow.
Shortly into the trip, she started experiencing soreness in her throat and a bit of a cough, but she didn’t think much of it considering she’s vaccinated. “It wasn’t bad and, again, I just thought I was sleeping with the air conditioner on,” Schmidt remembers thinking.
Two days later, her symptoms started getting worse. She took a COVID-19 test in preparation for her return flight but got a positive result. The CDC says travelers flying into the U.S. from another country must get tested no more than three days before their flight departs. Passengers must also show proof of a negative test before boarding the flight.
Now she’s been trapped in a Mexico hotel room since last Thursday.
She says she got a call just five minutes after testing positive, saying she had to quarantine for 14 days. She believes she caught the virus on the flight to Mexico even though she was wearing a medical-grade mask, but there’s no way to be sure.
When she arrived in Mexico, she decided to sign up for the hotel’s COVID-19 insurance for just $30, which covers a person’s stay up to 14 days after their initial departure date if they test positive for the virus and are forced to stay inside the country, so thankfully she doesn’t have to pay for her extended stay out of pocket.
As for the rest of the group, Schmidt was the only one vaccinated, but no one else tested positive.
“My case is definitely an outlier. I would still highly recommend the vaccine,” Schmidt said.
However, she hopes her story is a bit of a wake-up call for anyone looking to travel. Even though the CDC recently updated its guidelines to say that fully vaccinated people can fly domestically and internationally, Schmidt says:
“You have to be aware that quarantine is very realistic and it’s very possible that you may end up here. It’s a very small room. They literally have a guard standing outside my door 24/7. You cannot leave… Do you have the patience to be able to do that? And is that vacation worth it, should you end up in quarantine?”
She adds that a doctor is coming by on Thursday to test her again, but every test in Mexico sets her back $100. “I would get tested before travel. Plan that it’s very possible you could test positive,” Schmidt says. “You could test positive, and you could get it, and now I’m looking at being here potentially 19 days after my arrival,” Schmidt said.
What Does This Mean for Vaccinated Individuals?
More than 171 million vaccine doses have been administered across the U.S. As for Minnesota, around 1.8 million residents have received at least one dose. However, the Minnesota Dept. of Health has reported at least 222 “breakthrough” cases, in which a person tests positive for COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, but their symptoms have been mild.
The CDC adds that fully vaccinated people can get the virus, but it’s rare.
Paul Duprex, director of the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, says, “It’s much harder for vaccinated people to get infected, but don’t think for one second that they cannot get infected.”
Last Friday, the CDC updated its guidance for fully vaccinated Americans, saying that both domestic and international travel are low risk. Fully vaccinated people do not have to get a COVID-19 test before flying out of the U.S., but they do have to show proof of a negative test before returning. However, the agency is also trying to steer the general public away from non-essential travel as cases rise again across the country.
Based on Diane Schimdt’s story, traveling still comes with plenty of risks. If you’re fully vaccinated, you might not get seriously ill from COVID-19, but you could wind up stranded if you test positive during your trip.