Holiday planning: the Caribbean
With the holidays approaching, we decided that an overseas getaway would be a great way to spend Christmas and the New Year. We decided a low-key tropical location that was more conducive to being outdoors would be better. Curaçao had been on our travel wish list for some time, so the choice was clear.
Getting to Curaçao logistically was not a problem. All we needed was a negative PCR test within 48 hours of departure. We planned to stay from December 25 until January 3 (9 days). Given the low rate of infections in Curaçao at the time, we thought a Covid-free trip was in the cards. As we are used to doing when traveling during the pandemic, we exercised caution the entire trip, wearing masks, eating outdoors whenever possible, and following all local protocols.
Ringing in the New Year
We were fortunate enough to make some amazing local friends during our stay! They generously invited us to celebrate New Year’s Eve with them “Korsou style.” The festivities this year were muted due to the pandemic. The next day, we woke up feeling like we were starting to get a cold (in addition to the expected hangover). Our symptoms were negligible, and we attributed them to the New Year’s Eve festivities.
The departure – or so we thought
We were scheduled to leave the clear, blue seas of Curaçao in the afternoon of January 3rd. To return to the US, we needed a negative Covid-19 antigen test within 1 day of departure. We arrived for our test at the laboratory in Willemstad at 7:00 a.m., and we were advised that our results would be returned in time for our 3:36 p.m. flight to Miami.
The morning of our test, Adam(my partner) had developed a deep, painful cough, and his nose was extremely runny. I, on the other hand, had only minor cold symptoms. We were nervous about our results, but we were confident we would be fine and it would not be Covid. After all, we were not exposed to anyone who was actively sick, and we had been vigilant. We were trying to have a positive mindset.
Waiting and waiting
We passed the time waiting for our results by enjoying what we thought was a final seaside lunch and getting our AirBnB ready for check-out. At 1:00 p.m. I received very disappointing news via email – Adam’s antigen test was positive. It was only a matter of time before his positive results would come back as well. His results were delayed, and they were not received until over 24 hours later. Much to his surprise, they were negative, but given the severity of his symptoms, they had to be inaccurate. He took a PCR test on January 4th from another laboratory and, as expected, the positive results were returned within 8 hours. Suffice it to say we were stuck.
What came next
Over the next 10 days, we would spend our time in a small studio apartment surrounded by brightly colored historic monuments, ordering curbside groceries and, due to our limited vacation time (as is typical for Americans), working remotely. I had no issues connecting via my laptop. However, Adam is a business consultant, and his client had strict security requirements that limited the work he could do from overseas. But fortunately, we could still be productive from our little hideaway in Pietermaai.
Curaçao’s Covid process
From our understanding, the process in Curaçao after testing positive for Covid is as follows:
- Individuals receive their positive results and a 10-day mandatory isolation begins.
- Test results are sent to the Health Department by the lab.
- The Health Department contacts infected individuals and conducts a PCR to confirm results.
- Isolation ends and a retest is conducted:
- Negative results: return to your country.
- Positive results: 10-day isolation period restarts.
- Repeat testing until you are negative or otherwise cleared by a doctor to return home.
In our case, the Health Department did not reach out to us, and their phone line was constantly busy, so we voluntarily began our isolation while awaiting further instructions. Our amazing Airbnb hosts graciously extended our rental and moved us to a smaller unit where we served our Covid isolation sentence. They helped with errands that we could not do on our own and provided helpful tips and support. They were our lifesavers, and we cannot thank them enough.
Health Department woes
In the meantime, we had learned that while the US generally requires a negative test to return, visitors who have tested positive for Covid in the last 90 days can re-enter the country with a letter of recovery from a licensed doctor along with a copy of the original positive test result.
We reached out to Lab De Med and ADC for help. Both of them basically reiterated the process outlined above and indicated that we would have to serve our 10 days and then retest. ADC was the most helpful and after pressing them, they finally provided an email address for a contact at the Health Department. We quickly sent a message explaining our situation, and within a few hours a doctor at the Health Department called us back.
The doctor confirmed that our results were in the Curaçao health database and that our isolation period would be over soon. She requested a copy of our vaccination cards, and the next day we received letters of recovery, putting us in compliance with the USA’s re-entry requirements. The next and final part of our journey would begin in about 24 hours.
The return home
On January 13th, we got up early and spent a few hours having one last breakfast and a swim at Mambo Beach and Lions Dive. It was a beautiful day with sunny skies, and the sea looked even bluer than before. After the beach, we packed up our beloved studio, said farewell to our host and also new best friends, and had a delicious lunch at Plasa Bieu. A few hours later at the airport check-in counter, we presented our positive tests, the doctor’s note, and our passports. All were accepted. The only extra thing we needed to do was email the doctor’s note to the check-in agent. It was an easy process, and we arrived home late in the evening.
As everyone knows, Covid is everywhere, and visiting Curaçao will not increase your chances of getting it. We encourage everyone to come and experience this unique and stunning island. That said, we learned some very valuable lessons from this experience. Number one: get travel insurance to cover unexpected Covid-related costs. Make sure you are able to stay at least an extra 10 days if necessary. Check with your employer to ensure they will allow you to connect to the company’s network from overseas, and make sure you don’t have any obligations at home.
Secondly, try not to let your guard down and wear your mask as often as feasible. Wash your hands frequently and maintain a safe distance from people. Eat outdoors whenever possible and avoid crowds. Research your destination’s isolation requirements and review them regularly, as they often change with very short notice. Ensure you know your home country’s return requirements, as they can also change or be different than you think.
Over the past two years, we have traveled extensively, including to Mexico, Hawaii, Antigua, the US Virgin Islands, Florida, Maine, New York, Los Angeles, Istanbul, the Maldives, and finally Curaçao. This experience will not keep us from traveling, but it serves as a reminder to be vigilant in these times of Covid and plan for the worst.
Covid, and specifically Omicron, does not discriminate. Regardless of vaccination status, we are all at risk. At this point, we all know someone who has suffered from or even died from Covid. Being vigilant is important, but sometimes it’s not enough. If you plan to travel abroad right now, plan for an extended delay, get insurance, and keep your employer in the loop. Despite the less-than-perfect ending, Curaçao has been one of our favorite destinations, not only because of its beauty but because of the generosity and kindness of its people. There are definitely worse places in the world to be stuck!
by Leonardo Duran & Adam Chorpenning