I got COVID-19 while traveling solo. It's been a nightmare to change flights and find a place to quarantine.

I got COVID-19 while traveling solo. It's been a nightmare to change flights and find a place to quarantine.
"If the hotel quarantine service didn't work out, the costs would start to pile up."Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Alena Struzh, a 22-year-old international student, got sick on December 20 while in New York City.
  • She had to change her flight back to California, move out of her Airbnb, and find new housing fast.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alena Struzh, a 22-year-old international student from Berlin, 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 and was anticipating getting a booster, but I wasn't eligible yet (my six months since the second shot haven't passed yet because in Germany, the vaccination rollout was slower than in the US).

I tried to figure out if there were testing opportunities in New York City. I checked the NYC Health and Hospitals' website. And a friend recommended the LabQ mobile testing sites.

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 and 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 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 centers waiting for COVID-19 tests and was 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 return to California on December 31.

I still haven't gotten my PCR result. I'm getting a bit anxious about whether I'll receive it as I need it for any future medical records.

I was supposed to leave on December 24

On December 22, I was faced with the fact that I had to seek a place to quarantine. I spent the entire next day trying to find a solution while sick with COVID-19 and anxious about ending up on the street the following day.

I couldn't prolong my Airbnb stay as there were other guests booked. I also didn't want to infect other people, and 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 I was put on hold. I called multiple hotels asking whether I could quarantine there — no one said yes.

The Airbnb COVID-19 policy says you're not allowed to book an Airbnb for isolation reasons

Eventually, I tweeted and asked around in my friend group whether anyone knew someone who could help.

After three hours of being on hold with the quarantine hotel service, someone picked up, took my information, and said they'd reach out within the next 48 hours to tell me whether I was eligible.

Right now, my plan is fragile — but it's a plan

A nice person let me stay in their apartment over the holidays until December 27, while they were out of town. I found another person who'd sublet me their apartment until December 30.

A lot of people tried to help, and I'm 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-racking setting all of this up while being sick

I'm also aware that I'm still privileged in this situation as I have some financial resources.

But had the hotel quarantine service not worked out, the costs would have started 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 is on January 3. I'll also have to book accommodations for December 31 through January 3 after I leave 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 December 31, trying to motivate myself to stay strong.

I'm also mentally exhausted at this point. My next semester starts on January 3, and this hasn't been a relaxing vacation.