What was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation in southern Mexico turned into a nightmare when an older couple contracted COVID-19 last month. Now their daughter begs the other travelers to stay put.
“Even if you take precautions… you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said the girl, Jocelyn Arellano. “And if you’re away from your family, from the people you know, it’s a horrible experience.
Jose and Gloria Arellano bought their tickets to Oaxaca at the start of the pandemic. In November, they weren’t using them yet – and they were losing money every time they postponed their trip. So, on November 11, as cases in Mexico reached their highest level, they headed south from their home in Tijuana for what they hoped would be a relaxing two-week respite.
About 10 days after the trip started, Jose, 56, who has asthma, began to have difficulty breathing. At first, they thought it was just the difference in air quality in Oaxaca. But then, three days later, Gloria, 54, developed a fever and the couple decided it was time to get tested for the coronavirus. They hadn’t even received their test results before Jose’s breathing got so painful that they took him to the emergency room. The hospital sent him back with an oxygen tank and medicine.
By November 23, Jose’s health had deteriorated so badly that the family knew he needed to be admitted to the hospital. From her home in San Diego, where Jose worked for the county, Jocelyn began looking for hospitals that would allow her to enter. All of Oaxaca’s public hospitals were completely full, and private hospitals were too expensive. Eventually, a doctor she contacted suggested that an air ambulance take him back to San Diego where, as a United States Navy veteran, he could be treated at the local Veterans Hospital.
The ambulance arrived at the Arellanos Airbnb two days later and the crew immediately intubated Jose. At 2 p.m. that day, he was at the Veterans Hospital, where Jocelyn was waiting for him. She watched the orderlies roll her father on a stretcher from the air ambulance to the ICU, completely sedated. She has not seen him or spoken to him since.
Meanwhile, back in Oaxaca, her mother’s condition deteriorated as well. Gloria had tried to stay strong for her husband, Jocelyn said, but the minute he left, “her body just started to die off. Jocelyn’s brother, Christian, came down from Tijuana to take care of her in her weakened state. But on Friday, she too was admitted to intensive care.
Mexico surpassed one million total coronavirus cases on November 14, three days after Jose and Gloria left for their vacation. The country has since passed more than 100,000 deaths and counted nearly 200,000 new cases last month, according to Johns Hopkins University. This week, the Centers for Disease Control urged Americans not to visit Mexico, giving the country its highest alert level. The State Department has also urged U.S. citizens to reconsider any travel to the country.
Yet, over the winter months, the country has become a hot spot for Americans looking to escape the cold. Travel booking site Kayak reported that three of its most popular vacation destinations are in Mexico, and American Airlines declared it last month as the “clear leader” in international travel from the United States Volaris, a low cost airline serving the United States. Mexico and Central America said demand rose 13.1% in October compared to the same period last year.
Jocelyn had a clear message for those looking to travel this holiday season.
“It’s not worth the risk,” she said. “I would rather my parents lost the money for plane tickets.”
Jocelyn’s mother was released from the hospital on Monday. She still needs extra oxygen and frequent check-ups with a doctor, but is recovering in Airbnb with Christian, who has now also tested positive for the virus. Her husband, however, remains in intensive care on a ventilator. He is in stable condition, but Jocelyn said doctors have already asked permission to put him on dialysis if his kidneys fail.
The cost of treatment is staggering – Gloria’s hospital stay was around $ 4,000 a night, Jocelyn said – and the family launched a GoFundMe to cover some of the costs. So far, they have raised almost $ 12,000.
Jocelyn said it was heartwarming to see the amount of support her family had received. Talking about it is always painful, she said, but it’s worth it if she can convince others to “not travel and not risk”.
“With everything we’ve been through, I really wouldn’t want anyone else to experience this,” she said.
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