Commentary: I went to Spain for spring break. I came back with the coronavirus

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March 7: It was spring break week, finally. My friends and I had been planning our trip to Barcelona for months, far from my native Glastonbury, Conn. But we’d been hearing warnings as COVID-19 was beginning to spread worldwide.

“Spain only has two confirmed cases, you’re just as safe there, as you are in Tampa,” our families rationalized.

We stocked up on hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes and headed to the airport.

March 11: We started our day with alerts that the University of Tampa, where I’m a student, had switched to online classes indefinitely. Twitter alerted us that confirmed cases in Spain have reached over 500. Later in the evening, we’d planned to experience Barcelona’s nightlife. We were anxious but kept reminding each other that we’re young and healthy. The media said we’d be fine.

We took a taxi to a nightclub and waited in line. In a single moment, the entire atmosphere changed. Everyone around us seemed to take out their phones at the same time.

President Donald Trump had announced a 30-day European Union travel ban, effective in 48 hours. The details were so vague that we believed we could be stuck in Europe for 30 days if we couldn’t get back to the United States before the order started.

A loud taxi ride and a few tense phone calls later, I was booked on a flight to Tampa, leaving in four hours. I feel fortunate yet guilty, as I know booking this emergency and expensive flight home is a luxury many cannot afford.

March 12: I arrived at Barcelona’s airport just after midnight. There were massive lines of people, primarily American students, many of whom came to the airport without having a flight booked.

After a grueling travel day, I landed back in Tampa and met up with two of the friends I had traveled with. We returned to my home and decided to quarantine together.

March 16: I woke up late with an ache radiating from my back through my neck. My temperature was normal. I assumed I was worn down. I took some Tylenol, skipped dinner and went to bed early.

March 17: I woke up around 3 a.m. with sharp pains in my back and hips. I took more Tylenol.

I woke around noon, feeling shaky and weak. I spent the day falling in and out of sleep, a heating pad pressed to my back. My temperature was normal. But there was a tightness in my chest that I assumed was from anxiety. I kept reminding myself that I did not have a fever or cough, so it couldn’t possibly be COVID-19.

By the end of the day, my worries got the best of me, and I called a local urgent care facility. They referred me and my quarantined roommates to one of the drive-thru testing sites that were opening the following day across South Florida.

March 18:. My roommates and I arrived at the test site and saw a line of roughly 15 cars, police presence and various workers in full face shields and protective wear.

We rolled down a single window to speak to the workers. We told them of our travels and my worsening symptoms.

To my surprise, the discomfort of the nasal swab only lasted a few seconds. We were told we would receive our results in two to five days.

That night, we received an email that our graduation has been canceled and that the remainder of our senior year will be online. It felt like the least of my worries.

March 19: Again, I woke up in the early hours. I felt paralyzed by the aches. I have never in my life felt pain on this scale. I considered going to the emergency room but worried that if I did not have COVID-19, I could contract it there.

Around noon, I got out of bed. It had been three days since I’d eaten a proper meal, so I forced myself to have some juice, only to discover that my sense of taste and smell were completely gone.

March 20-22: The days blurred together. My roommates and I continued to be fever-free. I stepped on a scale and saw that I had lost 7 pounds. But soon, the pain began to fade.

March 27: I followed the guidelines on ending home isolation in positive cases as a precaution, as we had still not received our results. I was now over 72 hours symptom-free and 7 days from my first symptom. We learned that the labs were backed up and results were taking longer.

March 30: Twelve days after being tested, I got my results; positive for COVID-19.

They confirmed I could end home isolation and asked me to detail my experience and timeline of symptoms. I was relieved to only report my roommates when asked to identify any person or place I have had contact with. Even though it was difficult and emotionally taxing at times, I was reassured of our decision to home quarantine for such a lengthy period.

I have physically recovered since contracting COVID-19, but I am still dealing with the mental repercussions. When watching the news and seeing the death toll rise, I feel uneasy and somehow guilty. It is difficult to process how I was able to fully recover from the same exact illness that so many other people didn’t survive.

One of the few silver linings to come from my illness has been my ability to donate plasma for COVID-19 patients. I am incredibly grateful for every single health care worker putting themselves at risk to help others.

I feel blessed to have recovered and am more than willing to temporarily surrender my personal freedoms until this horrible illness is contained.



Lauren Karwoski is a 21-year-old Glastonbury, Conn., native and a student at the University of Tampa.


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