‘I can’t believe this is happening’: Travelers recount tales of getting stuck in Mexico after positive COVID tests

‘I can’t believe this is happening’: Travelers recount tales of getting stuck in Mexico after positive COVID tests

Korey Mudd wasn’t fazed by the cleaning crew outside his Mexico hotel room when he and his wife returned from the pool.

“There was someone wiping down the door and the handles and stuff,” he said. “They asked me if it was my room, and I said, yes.”

The 30-year-old control room operator didn’t grow concerned until a hotel manager and other officials pulled up in a golf cart. 

They delivered bad news: Mudd’s COVID-19 test, taken that morning at the hotel so he could board his flight home to Michigan under new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rules for international flights to the United States, was positive.

How soon could he pack up and move to another room for mandatory isolation? 

An hour later, Mudd was whisked to a new room. His wife, who had tested negative, was given the choice of staying in their casita at El Dorado Casitas Royale or moving into a room next door to his in the quarantine wing. She picked the latter.

It was the fifth day of their weeklong honeymoon in Riviera Maya outside Cancun.

Travel to Mexico and other international destinations open to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic took on additional risk when the new CDC guidelines went into effect Jan. 26.  

Do you need a COVID test to fly?

Travelers don’t need a COVID test to fly to Mexico, but they can’t board a flight back to the United States from the country or any international destination without showing a negative test taken no more than three days before departure or proof of recovery from COVID.

Test positive, and you can’t fly home until you are cleared by a doctor or provide proof of a negative test. Hotel and airline interpretations of the CDC rules vary, but travelers who’ve been stuck say they were told between 10 and 14 days in isolation.

When the requirement was announced on Jan. 12, travelers rushed to cancel plans or shift their vacation plans to U.S. vacation spots that don’t require COVID tests. But the bookings rebounded as some hotels announced free testing and a free quarantine stay if they tested positive and vaccination rates have increased. (A vaccination does not currently exempt travelers from the requirement.)

Mudd and plenty of other travelers weighed the risks and packed their bags for Mexico. The new rules went into effect four days before the couple’s flight from Michigan to Cancun. They were married in June and had already delayed their honeymoon due to the pandemic.

“Ultimately, we had pushed it off so many times already, we decided we were going to go ahead and go for it,” he said. 

They wish they hadn’t. The positive test stranded him in Mexico for nine nights longer than planned.

“It would have been better just to stay home, for sure, unfortunately.”

How many vacationers are testing positive for COVID-19 and getting stuck?

Mexico tourism and hotel officials say the rate of positive tests among travelers since the new testing requirement went into effect is minimal. 

The Grand at Moon Palace, a luxury all-inclusive resort in Cancun, has had no more than 10 cases, according to Cesar Fallardi, director of operations. Together with sister Palace Resorts, the rate is 0.4% he said.

“It’s nothing, honestly, nothing,” he said.

In Los Cabos, another popular beach destination in Mexico, Pueblo Bonito’s five resorts have had 23 positive results out of 8,196 tests, according to marketing director Mary Van Den Heuvel.

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