My name is Shavorn Stephens, an AA 945 passenger who arrived at Argyle International Airport (AIA) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on July 11, 2020.
In the weeks leading up to my flight, I read studies and scientific reports on traveling during the pandemic, spoke with health officials, and I also checked in frequently with Airline for updates on their safety precautions during the trip. My findings revealed that the air in a plane is constantly turning over, with outside air sucked into the cabin and old air pushed out. Ten to 50% of the air is recirculated runs through a HEPA filter, limiting the distribution of airborne particles. Overall, the air in a plane’s cabin should completely turn over every three minutes. As long as this ventilation system is combined with travellers correctly wearing high-quality masks, and declining to travel if they are at all symptomatic or have had contact with people who are sick, the risk of an outbreak on a plane should be close to zero. The main concern with air travel, then, is less about spreading the virus on the plane than about people spreading the virus once they arrive. With this knowledge and the advisory issued on 17/06/2020 by NEMO on the protocols for the entry of travellers to SVG; I felt confident to proceed a calculated plan of action.
Prior to travelling, I decided it was best to ship ahead my belongings. This way, I knew I could travel with only an overnight bag, avoid contact and navigate quickly and hassle free. I visited a private lab where I was administered tests for the following: PCR Covid-19, IgG and IgM Covid-19 antibody tests. Negative test certificates were issued after 20 hours, well within the required timeframe. With this news, I was finally comfortable enough to return to my family.
I reserved a seat at the front section of the aircraft, checked in online, then arrived at the Miami International Airport wearing a face shield and two N95 masks (according to CDC, this filters at least 95% of airborne particles).; I was also equipped with disposable gloves, sanitisers and Clorox wipes. I maintained the recommended distance while waiting in the departure area, and meticulously followed my plan of action: be the last to embark, wipe my seat, refrain from touching surfaces and my face, sanitising frequently, not using the restroom and being quick to disembark.
I will publicly state that arrival protocols established by the authorities at AIA could have been much more stringent. I believe a lot more could have been done to minimise the possibility of spreading the virus. Although all officials were protected with the recommended PPE, there were no implemented measures for social distancing or sanitisation in the waiting line, screening area and arrival hall.
Meeting all requirements outlined in the advisory, my arrival process moved swiftly through screening, Immigration and Customs; and I received no orders to quarantine. My sole comfort, at that point, was my own vigilance and preparative actions for the trip. Due to this, I was the first passenger to exit the arrival hall, all processed and released within 10 minutes of disembarkation.
Being from the Grenadines, I booked a few nights at a hotel in anticipation of the last leg of my travel home. I checked in with the wonderful nurse stationed at the property who answered all my questions. For peace of mind, I also contacted the COVID-19 Hotline, which advised that I was not seated near any of the infected passengers, and as such, I will still not be required to quarantine.
On July 13, I wore a mask and sat alone in a well-ventilated area of the ferry and made my way home. The following day, I received a call from the COVID-19 medical doctor stationed on the island. I was advised that he has received numerous reports of my return to the island and he required some information, which I willingly shared. I advised him that as an extra precaution, I made a personal decision to self-quarantine for a few days. I also requested a follow up PCR test, which was denied. The doctor reiterated, however, that I do not need to quarantine; he felt confident that I was not exposed during my travels, but added that I should contact him if I begin to feel unwell.
Shortly after my conversation with the COVID-19 medical doctor, I received an unannounced visit by the district nurse who had already entered my property, and the district doctor who remained in the parked vehicle near my gate. Due to her inability to answer my questions, a total disregard to my privacy, and the attempt to perform a home visit without the use of any basic PPE supplies (mask, gloves, face shield), I thought it was best to ask the district medical team to leave the property.
The COVID-19 medical doctor, initially unaware of the visit, later informed me that the District medical team required some information, as they needed to carry out contract tracing and will be visiting every other day to record my temperature. He further stated that due to a lack of resources, PPE is not usually utilised unless a person is suspected of being a positive COVID-19 case. I expressed my frustration to the doctor, since these procedures were clearly contradictory to the official NEMO, Government-issued advisory (see insert below), and he himself appeared to be acting as a ‘messenger’ and was unable justify the new demands.
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With this in mind, I informed the COVID-19 medical doctor that the district medical team was not welcomed to visit my home, until I receive an updated advisory from the authorities clearly outlining these new measures. I was released from AIA with permission to live without restriction and arrived at my island with no known exposure and negative results. If my follow-up call was satisfactory to the Covid-19 medical doctor, then it should also be satisfactory to the district clinic. Front line medical workers with no PPE will ultimately put my entire family at risk; assuming these procedures are standard, and all travellers arriving to the island are being attended to similarly. Also, with confirmation that I was not seated close to any of the infected persons, no evidence of being exposed or a positive test result, then there was absolutely no reason for the so-called contact tracing. I don’t think I am wrong to assume that my point of contact should be dedicated solely to the Covid-19 medical doctor stationed on the island, and not directly with the district medical team due to obvious risks involved.
The authorities have stated that I do not need to quarantine due to my negative results, but I decided to undergo a voluntary self-isolation in my private apartment as an additional precautionary measure. I am kindly requesting that persons refrain from creating false stories and spreading propaganda about my situation. Since my return, I have been bombarded by several persons on the island, and attempts have been made to have my family members out of a job. There is no need for the discrimination or isolation towards my family, as this by no means is a hostage situation.
In closing, I would like to add that I am conscious of the fear and panic floating around due to the virus, and rightly so. This fear, however, should not translate to divisive actions and unwarranted fear mongering. I returned home so I can be safe and at peace with my family. I took calculated measures to protect myself, so in turn, I could protect you. I urge the public to continue washing your hands, practice social distancing and wearing a mask. Our safety depends on the collective efforts of all individuals; not on those who wears no masks or performatively washing their hands only if people are looking.