I woke up to my phone ringing at 2:05 a.m. Paris time. It was my mom. “Mary Blake, President Trump is suspending all travel to Europe. Dad and I are trying to get you a flight, but you might be leaving tomorrow morning. I need you to be prepped if you have to get to the airport in just a few hours.”
That was Thursday, March 12. My mom called while watching President Trump’s address and told me to start prepping to go home. I was completely shocked; I was not mentally or physically prepared to go home. By this point, I was expecting to be sent back to Nashville by my university, the University of South Carolina, but not for another week or two. Yes, COVID-19 was rapidly spreading through Europe, and France borders both Italy and Spain, the two countries where the outbreak was the worst up to that point. However, France was still not listed as a country of concern by the CDC.
My mom called me back within 20 minutes and told me that I was heading home Friday morning, so that meant I had just one day to talk to my university, pack up my apartment, and say goodbye to the city that had so quickly become a second home for me over the past two months.
By daybreak on March 12, two of my three roommates also had flights home for Friday. We all went to our schools to talk to our professors about our leaving and how to complete our classes. Then we packed and cleaned our apartment together, completely in shock that our Parisian adventure was coming to an end so soon.
We spent that night taking pictures by Place du Trocadero and eating an incredible fondue dinner, and then watched Dirty Dancing curled up together on the couch in the apartment we loved so much (wooden floors, high ceilings, a fireplace … it was exactly what one thinks a Parisian apartment should be!).
Afraid of how busy the airport would be, I left my apartment at 4 a.m. for a 9 a.m. flight. When I walked into the terminal, I was shocked. It was basically empty. I waited for 20 minutes for the AirFrance bag drop to open, but after that I was through security and passport check in less than 30 minutes. Almost everyone flying that morning was American. There were families heading home early from spring break trips, college kids like me being sent home early from their semester abroad, and businessmen and women coming back from work trips.
The flight itself was probably 75% full, which was another surprise. I would have expected a completely full flight based on how hard it was for people to find flights last-minute. Spirits were high though. Maybe 20-30 people had masks on, and about 10 were wearing latex gloves, but most people just seemed happy to be heading home and getting out of Europe.
The Delta crew constantly wiped down equipment, making it clear that they were taking the virus threat seriously, but also making sure everyone on board was calm and happy. And 10 hours later, we landed in Atlanta.
Customs was also a quick process. I didn’t have my temperature taken, but they did ask what countries I had visited while overseas (specifically Italy) and gave me a pamphlet about what to do if I developed any symptoms.
Three hours later, I walked out of my second flight onto my beloved BNA carpet in Nashville. I had been awake for 18 hours and one of my bags was still in Atlanta, but I was home. My siblings picked me up from the airport with both of our dogs in the car; I was so happy to see them that I cried.
I will finish my classes online and will not have any issues with getting my class credits through University Dauphine and University of South Carolina. This is a completely unprecedented situation, and professors are accommodating with lesson plans and how to turn in assignments.
I’m still a bit in shock due to how fast this whole process was, but there’s nowhere I’d rather be than home with my family. I’m so thankful that I was able to leave when I did since France is now on lockdown. All nonessential stores are closed, and public transportation is only for essential travel. Lines for screenings at customs at the 13 “funnel airports” in the U.S. are reported to be taking up to 6 hours.
My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19. I don’t know what exactly is going to happen in the coming weeks and months, but now that we’re all in this together, I’m taking it one day at a time.
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