The Department of State advised U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel at this time due to the global impact of COVID-19. An estimated 50,000 Americans are stranded abroad by coronavirus events and seeking assistance in returning home.
What are Americans living abroad experiencing in this time of widespread concern and fear of contracting the illness?
Colorado County and Eagle Lake native Dawn O’Neal has lived in Kaiserslautern, Germany for almost four years. Her husband, Antonio, is an officer in the United States Army and their daughter, Paige, is an elementary school student.
Germany has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with over 63,000 confirmed positive coronavirus patients. Even with the high number of people infected, only 0.9 percent of the patients, which comes to 560 people, have died. This gives Germany one of the lowest fatality rates in the world currently.
“We are on complete lockdown. Everything is closed,” O’Neal said. German leader Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained physicist prior to entering politics, said in a news conference that in a worst-case scenario, “two in three Germans may become infected.”
Experts said that while Merkel’s estimates were on the high end, the real infection rate for Germany, much like America, would depend on whether citizens took measures such as social distancing, self quarantining and hand hygiene seriously to reduce the spread of the virus.
Some other experiences O’Neal described are similar to what Colorado County residents are experiencing as well.
“We have been following all restriction and social distancing guidelines. My husband is teleworking from home. I am homeschooling Paige. All military related personnel is on a 60-day travel restriction. All restaurants are take-out only. All non-essential businesses are closed. The streets are quiet and empty.”
O’Neal also describes the terrifying two weeks she was quarantined after discovering she had come in contact with someone who tested positive for the illness.
“We were under mandatory home quarantine because I was identified as a person who came in close contact with someone who tested positive. I was contacted by the hospital, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, or LRMC. I was never given the identity of the person who tested positive. I was only told that I came in contact with the person at a Girl Scout function on Mar. 12. As a result, we were quarantined until Mar. 26. The hospital’s COVID-19 Trace Team contacted us every day to monitor our symptoms, and thankfully, in our case we displayed no symptoms. Germany started testing people very quickly as the epidemic started growing. People who just displayed even mild or few symptoms were tested because tests were so readily available. We were never tested and were informed by the hospital, which is a military hospital, that we would not be tested due to our lack of symptoms. Our mandatory home quarantine has ended, but I haven’t been anywhere. My biggest fear is that we would be carriers and give it to someone else.”
Experts state that even though Germany seemed to be ahead of the curve, the pandemic is still in early phases and fatality numbers have a lag time, so in a few weeks Germany’s impressive numbers could change.
O’Neal went on to say that German residents are allowed to exercise outside now, “but no more than two may gather at a time.”
“Even though we are technically off of mandatory home quarantine, I haven’t left the house, other than the backyard,” O’Neal said.
With travel uncertainties worldwide, O’Neal says she is grateful for social media to keep in touch with stateside family and friends.
“This is a scary situation. Be safe rather than sorry. Follow the guidelines,” O’Neal said.
“My biggest fear is that we would be carriers and give it to someone else.”
Eagle Lake native Dawn O’Neal following her two-week COVID-19 exposure quarantine