What it’s like to test positive for COVID-19 and quarantine in Mexico

Feb 22, 2021

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Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began mandating that all international travelers present a negative COVID-19 test before they’re permitted to board their flight to the United States.

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While the new requirement presents logistical challenges, many destinations worked quickly to make the process as seamless as possible, in a bid to avoid having travelers cancel their plans, or avoid making new ones, despite clear warnings against international travel.

The testing mandate is intended to limit the number of people traveling while actively infected with COVID-19. It’s still going to happen — even more reliable PCR tests are hardly foolproof — but the new program has surely caught some would-be flyers, including one reader currently in Mexico, who shared his experience with TPG.

This reader, who requested anonymity, lives in the southeastern U.S., and believes he contracted COVID-19 while dining inside a restaurant with friends before traveling to a resort in Riviera Maya via Cancun (CUN) with his wife and daughter.

The view from quarantine in Mexico. Photo courtesy of anonymous.

While many people have avoided indoor dining entirely during the pandemic, that certainly isn’t the case for everyone. In the southeast, where mid-pandemic restaurant dining is far more common than it is in some parts of the country, this reader estimates that he’s eaten inside restaurants 60 times since July 2020.

Most of the dining rooms have had significant spacing between tables, he said, but that wasn’t the case for one dinner he enjoyed with two friends before the Mexico trip — one of whom has since tested positive as well.

While he was feeling a bit more tired than usual when they arrived in Mexico, most of the trip went off without a hitch. Before their planned flight home, the TPG reader and his family took rapid tests, hoping to be cleared to return to the U.S. Things moved quickly from there.

While his wife and daughter tested negative, his rapid test came back positive, and a second rapid test did as well. A third test — the more reliable PCR version — was also positive.

His wife and daughter moved to another room at the hotel, and flew back to the U.S. the next day, wearing KN95 masks for the flight home, just as they did on the journey to Mexico. Notably, his wife has since tested positive, after returning to the U.S., while his daughter’s test was negative.

Both of their tests had been negative before their flight, so they were compliant with the CDC order, though they may have encountered some trouble checking in with certain airlines — United, for example, requires passengers to declare that they haven’t had close contact with someone who tested positive in the last 14 days.

At the same time, he began his solo quarantine in a spacious villa — at his own expense. Some hotels are offering a free quarantine after a positive test, and even though this resort reduced the room rate and cost of room service by 50%, after taxes, fees and food, he’s still looking at about $800 per night.

Still, it you have to quarantine, it doesn’t sound like a bad place to do it. He has a separate living room, a private plunge pool and a jungle view. Most important of all, there’s Wi-Fi, and he’s fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, so there hasn’t been any impact on the productivity front.

His COVID-19 symptoms have been manageable as well. He was tired for the first few days, and while he’s feeling more energetic, he’s lost his sense of taste and smell — foods that were once spicy or rich or sweet are now simply “hot” or “cold.” “You don’t want to eat because you can’t taste it,” he said. “It’s just kind of bizarre.”

The food looks good, even if it’s impossible to taste. Photo courtesy of anonymous.

The resort has been especially accommodating, too. His stay is hardly free, but the 50% discount helps, and the staff has been calling to check on him regularly, in addition to providing a distanced delivery during mealtimes. Still, testing positive in Mexico hadn’t been part of the plan.

There are a few key takeaways from this reader’s experience. First, if you can avoid traveling internationally right now, that certainly seems like the prudent move. If you do need to fly abroad, before you leave the United States, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Ensure that testing is easily accessible at your destination
  2. Before you book a hotel, confirm pricing for quarantine stays, and confirm that you’ll be able to stay in your room if you test positive
  3. Isolate as best you can, at least for the two weeks leading up to your trip
  4. Take a test (and receive results) as close to your U.S. departure as possible
  5. Prepare to be away from the U.S. for the duration of your trip, plus two additional weeks
  6. Wear a proper mask (ideally an N95) throughout your entire journey

And after you arrive at your destination country:

  1. Continue wearing an N95 mask whenever near other people indoors
  2. Avoid any activities where you must remove your mask, including indoor dining
  3. Test regularly, if possible, and isolate and test immediately if you begin to feel COVID-19 symptoms

If you do test positive, make sure you’re properly wearing your mask and go directly to your hotel room. Call the front desk from your room phone, and ask about your options. If your travel companions test negative, consider booking them into a separate room, and prepare for everyone to quarantine in their hotel rooms for the required time — in some cases, as many as 14 days after a positive test.

If you do test positive and need to isolate, it may be helpful to come up with a daily schedule, to help keep your mind and body fit. In the case of this reader, having a lot of private space has certainly helped make that easier.

Each morning, he’s been starting the day with pilates on a workout app, walking back and forth in his plunge pool — even though it’s only six steps wide — and walking laps inside his villa at least once an hour. “If I was staying in a [regular hotel room], I don’t think I’d be a happy camper right now,” he said.

Bottom line

While the financial burden of a hotel quarantine is definitely worth keeping in mind, it should hardly be your only concern. COVID-19 is a highly contagious, lethal disease — limiting the spread should always be top of mind, so if you have even the slightest inkling that you might have been infected, it’s essential to isolate from others until you’re able to get a test.

For now, it may be best to limit international travel, especially if you haven’t yet been vaccinated. If you do intend to travel, you may want to consider purchasing insurance that includes COVID-19 coverage — head over to our comprehensive guide to independent travel insurance to learn more about your options.

Ultimately, this reader got off very easy, with symptoms limited to fatigue and a loss of taste and smell. It sounds like he wore a mask and distanced from others throughout the trip, but many tourists in Mexico aren’t so careful, potentially leading to thousands of additional deaths.

Featured image courtesy of anonymous.

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