- Alena Struzh, a 22-year-old international student, got sick on December 20 while in New York City.
- She had to change her flights to California, move out of her Airbnb, and find new housing fast.
- This is her story, as told to writer Taayoo Murray.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alena Struzh, a 22-year-old international student from Berlin, Germany, about getting COVID-19 while traveling in the US. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Right now, I’m on my academic year abroad in Santa Barbara, California.
I traveled to New York City on December 15 for winter-break vacation. I was traveling with another international student for the first three days, but she flew back to Sweden on December 18.
It was my first time in the city. The remaining time I planned to spend by myself.
My symptoms started on December 20
The same day, the friend I was traveling with told me she developed a fever in Sweden and was getting tested for COVID-19.
I got the Moderna vaccine. I was anticipating getting a booster but wasn’t eligible yet (my six months since the second shot haven’t pass yet because in Germany, the vaccination rollout was slower than in the US).
My friend in Sweden told me she tested positive on December 21. I immediately got a PCR test via LabQ, but the testing personnel told me it would take four days to get the results.
I spent the rest of the day trying to find a rapid at-home test. On December 22, I joined a line for an hour in front of a health department location in Brooklyn to get one of the limited rapid at-home testing kits that were being distributed. I took it that morning and the results said I was positive.
In the first couple of days, I had a sore throat, coughed a lot, and my entire body ached
My symptoms then became milder and I had a stuffy nose and fatigue. I now mostly just feel fatigued.
I spoke to a nurse from my university back in California, as it seemed impossible to get any medical assistance in New York City. I’m also not particularly familiar with the US healthcare system, resources such as urgent care, and who in general provides COVID-19 testing. I’ve seen enough long lines of people at urgent care waiting for COVID-19 tests and was very shocked by how overwhelmed the resources seemed to be.
I had to isolate for 10 days beginning the day when I started experiencing symptoms. This meant I could only return to California on December 31.
I still haven’t gotten my PCR result. I’m getting a bit anxious about whether I’ll actually receive it, as I need it for any future medical records.
I was supposed to leave on December 24
On the 22, I was faced with the fact that I had to seek a place to quarantine. I spent the entire day of the 23 trying to find a solution while sick with COVID-19 and anxious about ending up on the street the next day.
I couldn’t prolong my Airbnb stay, as there were other guests booked. I also didn’t want to infect other people, as there was no private bathroom in the Airbnb. Before leaving, I disinfected the room as best as possible.
I heard of the city’s free quarantine hotel program and called them multiple times but was put on hold. I called multiple hotels asking whether I could quarantine there — no one said yes.
The Airbnb COVID-19 policy states that you’re not allowed to book an Airbnb for isolation reasons
Eventually, I set up a Twitter post and asked around in my friend group if anyone knew someone who could help.
Eventually, after three hours of being on hold with the quarantine hotel service, someone picked up, took my information, and said that they would reach out within the next 48 hours to tell me if I’m eligible or not.
Right now, my plan is fragile — but it’s a plan
A very nice person let me stay in their apartment over the holidays until December 27 while they’re out of town. I found another person who would sublet me their apartment up until December 30.
A lot of people tried to help, and I’m very grateful for each of them. Fortunately, on Monday, I received confirmation that I was assigned one of the city’s COVID-19 hotel isolation rooms.
Honestly, it’s been exhausting and nerve-wracking setting all of this up while being sick
I’m also aware that I’m still very privileged in this situation, as I do have some financial resources.
But if the hotel quarantine service didn’t work out, the costs would start to pile up.
Subletting the apartment costs $50 per night. I also have to rebook a flight to Santa Barbara, as the first affordable option to get back will be on January 3. I will also have to book accommodations for December 31 through January 3 after leaving the city’s isolation hotel.
On Christmas weekend, I was pretty depressed
A couple of friends called and I watched my family exchange gifts, but mostly I mindlessly scrolled through TikTok. I watched one movie and tried to read. I made a restaurant reservation for the 31, trying to motivate myself to stay strong.
I’m also mentally exhausted at this point. My next semester starts on January 3. It’s not been a really relaxing vacation.