Coronavirus Testimony: A tourist becomes an outcast because of the virus

Not long ago, Carmela Hontou, a 57-year-old fashion designer from Uruguay, was enjoying her trip in Spain just as the COVID-19 pandemic started making headlines around the world.

While on the trip, she experienced a fever but paid little attention to it. A doctor advised her it was nothing to worry about. On March 7, Ms. Hontou landed back in Uruguay and within hours attended a wedding with over 500 people. Soon, she learned 44 of those who had attended had been infected with the virus. After connecting the dots, it was found that Ms. Hontou had likely contracted the virus in Spain and brought it to Uruguay. 

Since then, Ms. Hontou has become the target of blame in the country. She has received hundreds of threats and has been notified of possibly facing legal charges under article 224 of Uruguay’s penal code regarding ‘the spreading of contagious diseases.

“No one told me to quarantine,” she states. “The doctor said I was fine and not one person in customs did anything to assure that passengers weren’t showing symptoms of the virus.”

Her statements have brought up concerns over the lack of protocols implemented in airports when flying internationally. As a result, Uruguay suspended all flights arriving from the U.S. and Europe.

What was once supposed to be a dream-come-true trip to Spain turned into a nightmare for Ms. Hontou and the rest of Uruguay. The country has now totaled more than 630 COVID-19 cases. Sixteen people have died.

Uruguay has since closed down schools, restaurants, and malls. Most people are now spending their days doing what the majority of the world is doing, staying home and trying to keep busy. 

While the impact of COVID-19 has not been as harsh on others as it has on Hontou, it still has and continues to devastate the lives of millions around the world.

Among the impacted is 38-year-old Jessica Livesy who was recently laid off from her job as a concierge at Washington, D.C.’s Four Seasons Hotel. “I have no income coming in but I still have to pay the bills,” she says. “Since the day I was let go of, I haven’t stopped thinking about how I am going to be providing for myself and my two little boys.”

Livesy mentions that while unemployment benefits have helped, she’s not sure if it’ll keep her and her sons’ heads above water. 

Ms. Livesy isn’t the only one who has brought up concerns over the unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Layne Amelia, 27, is a self-employed hairdresser who had started her own business less than two years ago. Amelia currently resides in New York, where the city has experienced one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

Layne Amelia (photo courtesy of Layne Amelia)

With the state facing a catastrophic crisis, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a lockdown. “My business was finally catching speed and I was starting to get more and more clients,” Ms. Amelia states. “Then I heard about the lockdown, and right away knew what that meant for me and my business,” she adds. 

Across the Atlantic in Spain, the total number of fatalities has jumped over 26,000. In an attempt to slow down the virus, Spain ordered a lockdown, leaving only essential stores and banks to be open. Among the open banks is Banco Santander in Barcelona, where single mom Marianna Velez has been working for 12 years. 

Velez, 41, has a 6-year-old daughter who has no one to look after her while her mom heads to work. After calling out of work in order to take care of her child, she received an email from the bank last week notifying her that she would be let her go. Now unemployed and left with very little hope of finding a job any time soon, Velez has no other option but to take money out of savings to pay for rent.

“I promised myself I would never touch those savings, as they are for my daughter when she grows up,” Velez says. “I’m scared and I don’t know to do, but I have to be strong for Carla [her daughter] and do everything I can to find a way out of this mess.”  

Sadly, the severity of the pandemic has only seemed to grow in intensity. Spain has been among the world’s most affected countries. Daniel Abalos, 29, worked non-stop with patients at Hospital Universitario Santa Cristina in Madrid. 

Abalos is aware of the possible health complications that come from working with highly contagious patients but recognizes the necessity of going to work. “It definitely scares me but this is my job, and I’m at least happy to be a part of helping this community,” he states. “I’ve probably worked over 80 hours last week,” he adds, “just absolute insanity.” 

As the number of COVID-19 cases shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, it’s unclear what’s to come in the next few months. The unprecedented pandemic has created mostly uncertainty, but one thing is for sure: future history professors will be teaching about COVID-19 and its impact to generations to come. 

Juliana Hontou was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. She is currently a FIU student living in Miami. She has a deep fondness for sports ever since she can remember and hopes one day to pursue a career broadcasting and reporting sports.