Flyers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport wearing facemasks on March 6th, 2020 as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads throughout the United States. Photo by Chad Davis
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Traveling amidst an outbreak

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was first detected in China in late December of 2019 and was later declared an outbreak on January 30, 2019. 

On March 11, the virus was declared a pandemic. According to the CDC, Coronaviruses are common in people and many species of animals; including bats, camels and cattle. Although, It is less common for the viruses to be capable of spreading from an animal to a human. 

From the sequences pulled from U.S patients there is a similarity to the ones pulled in China, suggesting the emergence of this virus came from an animal, likely a bat. 

The epicenter of the viruses’ outbreak is believed to be Wuhan, Hubei Province, China at a large seafood and live animal market. It is thought that patient zero was a worker at this market who contracted the disease from one of the animals. The disease within the market grew as  the viruses’ ability of person-to-person spread mutated. 

As COVID-19 began spreading from person-to-person, large quantities of tourists and business workers fled China in hopes of escaping the outbreak. As the manifestation grew throughout China, no longer concentrating within Wuhan, travelers began spreading the virus to new countries such as South Korea, Iran, Italy and later the United States. 

Although the fear of this new virus within a country with little to no known cases remained low, there were a few who decided to act early and cautiously. When it came to traveling I was one of those people. After learning of a short trip to Arizona I would be taking my first thought was “what I would wear” but then quickly turned into “what will I need to keep me and my partner safe?”

Our trip was scheduled for Friday March 6 through Monday March 9, a short jaunt to a state that had only one confirmed case of the novel coronavirus and leaving Minnesota which until that day had no known cases. All around, this seemed to be a low risk situation but I still felt the need to take every precaution. 

A week or two before learning of this trip my fear had gotten the best of me and led me to impulse buying what I consider to be a “survival box”. Within this box I stored canned vegetables and fruit, snacks, soup mixes and pasta along with rubber gloves, cold medicine and candy. Although impulsive at the time living in a state with no known cases, I felt as though I was doing something to ease my fears. 

While buying the supplies for my “survival box” I also decided to stop by the first aid section of Target to see what else I may find useful. My eyes immediately turned towards the hand sanitizer and wet wipes. I picked up two of each, one for me and one for my partner. I decided these would be the tools we’d use to keep ourselves at least a little less germy while in school and out in public. 

Incoming passengers await the processing of the travel documents by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations officers at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 13, 2020. In response to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) CBP officers have begun wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) as they interact with passengers arriving from foreign countries. Many passengers have also donned PPE to safeguard themselves and others on their travels. CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett

While standing in the aisle deciding which scent of wet wipes I liked best I thought I might look for face masks. However over the top this may seem, when you’ve panicked yourself to the brink of starting a survival box, a mask is not a far jump. 

I searched all over looking for these face masks, going as far as looking in the construction and auto sections of Target only to come up with nothing. All were completely sold out, no shipping date known. It was then I realized the panic had spread beyond me and over to my imagination. 

It was that same week that cities across America began scrambling for non-perishables, cold medicine, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. I can’t say I didn’t have the same thoughts nor act on some of them. The fear of the unknown can sometimes be worse than the truth. 

A week before our trip my partner and I decided it would be best if we began taking Airborne on a daily basis – anything to build up some immunity. We kept this up while on our trip and for three days following our return home.

Within that week I found myself checking any and every article that came across my screen that had to do with the Coronavirus. Although my chances of contracting the virus were low, they were going to be higher than if I were to stay home. I find I do better when I have as much knowledge as possible about a situation, so while I armed my immune system with vitamin C, I armed my mind and calmed my nerves with information. When it came time for us to leave for our trip I made sure we were fully equipped to fight any and every unwanted germ, or at least that’s what I told myself. 

Airports aren’t necessarily known for being the cleanest places in the world so it’s best to always use your best hygiene practices when traveling, but when traveling during an outbreak, you tend to think twice about where you sit, eat, set your bags down and how many people touched this or that. 

To combat any fears of who may have touched or used something before me, I was sure to use Purell after every interaction whether it was the gentleman checking our bag, the TSA when going through security, the bins you place your items in or the waitress at the bar.

Due to our flight out being delayed by almost an hour my partner and I chose to have lunch at the Minnesota Wild Bar in terminal two. The place was booked so our only choice was to sit at the bar. Before sitting down I pulled out my wet wipes and wiped down the bar top and our chairs. We each took turns washing our hands so we wouldn’t lose our seats before ordering. After, looking at the menus we used more Purell, and once we were finished eating we went and washed our hands. 

While waiting to board our flight I chose to stand, not sit, so as to avoid needing to wipe down yet another seat. As we boarded the flight I kept my hands tight to my sides as did my partner. As soon as we found our seats we wiped down our chairs, their arms and the tray in front of us along with the back of the seat it was attached to. 

On our flight I witnessed many people using the same precautions we were. One gentleman boarded the plane wearing a face mask and you could feel the tension grow within the cabin. It was shortly after boarding our flight when we discovered there was one confirmed case of the Novel Coronavirus in the state of Minnesota. 

When we landed in Arizona nothing seemed out of place, no one was wearing masks or gloves, there was no check in station for incoming flights. It seemed as though no one had any worries about the outbreak. That was refreshing. 

While in Arizona, we continued our heightened awareness when it came to germs and used Purell and wet wipes frequently. It wasn’t until we headed back to Minnesota that we started noticing others hesitation and concern for the outbreak. 

While waiting to board our flight back home, we observed two separate couples wearing both face masks and gloves walking through the airport. When we landed back in Minnesota a large group of college aged kids walked by, all wearing face masks. I felt myself beginning to worry again. 

I am now writing this two days after landing in Minnesota, the World Health Organization (WHO) has just classified this outbreak as a pandemic, and the University of Minnesota, which I attend, and its five sister campuses, have chosen to extend their spring breaks by two days and then turn to an entirely digital platform for two consecutive weeks. 

It is important to take the steps needed to keep us safe and keep us healthy, remember to always practice good hygiene, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water, always cough and sneeze into a tissue or elbow and be mindful of who you are around. If you do start to feel sick, or show any signs of the Novel Coronavirus, stay home from work or school, notify your doctor and follow their instructions on how to best fight it.  

For more information on the Novel Coronavirus and its symptoms visit the CDC’s website for live updates. 


Editor’s note: This article was written in mid March before the outbreak caused disruption in the United States.

This article was featured in the Daily Planet’s spring magazine. For other features, check out our magazine section.

Addie Marzinske

I love to travel. Nine countries down so many more to go.

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