13,500 Americans are stranded abroad due to coronavirus travel restrictions, and are trying to get back

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Mike and Stephen Jansma with Emily and Carol Creamer at an airport in Quito, Ecuador. Photo credit: Mike Jansma.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has fouled spring break trips, long-planned vacations and overseas travel. The State Department estimates that about 13,500 Americans are stranded abroad. As of Tuesday, the federal government had chartered 16 flights to repatriate them, but that still leaves thousands of citizens stuck. KCRW’s Cerise Castle spoke with two families in Ecuador. 

Mike Jansma went to Ecuador with his wife, Laura, and son, Stephen, for a Spanish immersion trip earlier this month with a group from Stephen’s school. They were in South America weeks before the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory urging citizens not to travel. 

When the trip finished, they traveled to the Galapagos Islands with friends Emily and Carol Creamer for the beginning of spring break. They were on a small island when they heard that Ecuador was closing its borders, and they only had a few days to get out of the country. Because of the size of their group, they weren’t able to secure seats on a ferry to the mainland in time and missed the deadline. 

Emily Creamer, one of the students on the trip, has been keeping track of the group's contacts with the embassy. 

“We have tried to contact the embassy, and they basically told us that we were on our own, and that there’s nothing they can do,” she says. “Friends and family at home are being told differently.” 

The Creamer say that the State Department is telling their friends and family in the United States that the group can fill out some paperwork and take a flight home. 

But that hasn’t been the group's experience. Their contact with the State Department only yielded seats that cost $1,000 or more. The federal government also did not help the people stuck get to an airport in the midst of massive national restrictions. 

“Here in Ecuador there’s a travel curfew, depending on which province you're in. They range from 5 pm to 7 pm all the way until 5, 6 or 7 am,” Mike Jansma says. “And in the hours where there isn’t that curfew, you’re only allowed to be out for essential things, so pharmacy, hospital, grocery store. You can’t buy groceries without an Ecuadorian ID, so that leaves us out.”

Jansma’s wife also has a thyroid issue, and she relies on medication to manage it. She’s run out of it since the group became stuck in Ecuador. 

“She has an autoimmune disease that makes her very susceptible to the coronavirus. She actually brought extra meds with her, but she has run out, and there’s no direct replacements here in Ecuador,” he says. “We’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out if we can FedEx them in or if there was some direct replacement. But so far working with multiple pharmacies and pharmacists in the US, we’ve yet to come up with something.”

The family has made some progress on their own. They were able to find a flight out of Quito to Houston. If all goes well, they will land Tuesday evening. 

Credits

Host:
Larry Perel

Producers:
Cerise Castle, Benjamin Gottlieb