Like many other Americans abroad, I took notice when the State Department advised us on March 19 to return to the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic. OK, it was actually my mom who noticed, and she insisted that I pay attention, too. So, my semester abroad in France was cut short, and early the next morning, I purchased a ticket for a flight to America for the following day.
I had spent the previous few days confined to my apartment, able to leave only if I had my passport and a properly filled-out form explaining what I was doing—necessary even for something like jogging, which tends to be a bit awkward with all that paperwork in hand. The form I had to fill out every time I left is pictured below, and includes options for essential business, purchasing necessities, health, family or assisting those in need, individual exercise, and walking pets.
And so when I began my journey back to the United States, I was anticipating strict precautions every step of the way. Instead, and unexpectedly, I faced little in the way of screening. I took a train into Paris and wasn’t screened at all. I walked through security and customs at the airport; no coronavirus screening. Airport employees all wore masks and gloves, and the planes themselves were being cleaned thoroughly between flights—though that didn’t assure some passengers, who managed to slow the boarding process on my flight back by half an hour while attempting to scrub their seats down even more. Everyone was so on edge that clearing my throat during dinner earned me several looks of shock and terror.
My biggest surprise, however, came when I returned stateside. I’d read stories about airport coronavirus screenings, which promised thermometers and emergency staff watchfully evaluating travelers, and heard President Trump guarantee returning Americans were being “very heavily tested.” However, that’s not what happened when I arrived in Atlanta.