A Hasty Trip Home: Coronavirus and the France Trip

from Issue C


COVID-19 has struck multiple times with increasing degrees of viciousness. One blow that COVID-19 took to Jackson Academy students was an early return from the annual trip to France that some took. I asked Mrs. Arnold to discuss what had happened, and she gave a very detailed account of the trip, as reprinted below.

Our trip to France was, on the one hand, an incredible trip. On the other hand, I don’t think any of us will ever forget the scary experience of being caught in a foreign country during a global pandemic. 

Questions about the trip with regards to COVID-19 began about two weeks before our departure. The JA administration, our travel company, and I, as well as fellow colleagues at schools around the country discussed the ever-changing situation multiple times a day. We closely followed the guidelines and travel advisories of the US Department of State, the CDC, and the World Health Organization. At the time of our departure, COVID-19 was categorized as an epidemic, not a pandemic. Our trip didn’t meet any criteria to cancel, which meant we weren’t eligible for refunds with our travel insurance policy. Nevertheless, two participants pulled out of the trip at the last minute.

With the information we had available to us at the time, we departed for Paris on 6 March in good faith that it was safe to do so. The first six days of the trip went beautifully. We exercised extreme caution, sanitizing our hands and our immediate surroundings at all times while enjoying fewer crowds in tourist spots. On the sixth night, we were in Nice when the adults were awoken at 3:30 am by urgent texts and phone calls from the US letting us know the news that President Trump had announced a travel ban from certain parts of the world, including France, effective at midnight the following night. Trump would later relax that policy for permanent US citizens, but in the moment, we were working with the midnight deadline. The adults in our group gathered in our pajamas in the hotel lobby to sort things out with Steve McCartney on speaker phone. We were fortunate that the kids slept through this turmoil, completely unaware. Our first task was to assure parents back at home that we were aware of the travel ban and were working on a solution. Then, we had to figure out when our scheduled flights were due back in the US. The majority of our group was scheduled to land in Miami a few hours ahead of the midnight deadline, barring any delays. That was a stroke of good luck. Finally, our focus turned to the people in our group who had initially chosen to extend their trips and therefore had independent flights back to the US. With the help of our terrific travel company, Travel for Teens, those ten members of our group were able to be re-booked on different flights that would get them home in time. They all left in the early morning hours before the rest of the kids had even woken up and learned what had happened.

That morning, our primary goal was to have a good last day in France and to keep the students calm under unnerving circumstances, and it turned out to be one of our very best days of the trip. We took a bus along the Mediterranean coastline to the cliffside village of Èze, where we toured a perfumery, and then continued on to beautiful Monaco. That night, we enjoyed our farewell dinner back in Nice before leaving for the airport at 3 a.m. We traveled from Nice to Madrid to Miami to New Orleans to Jackson without the slightest delay or hold-up. There were even empty seats on our planes. We didn’t experience any of the airport crowds or health screenings that were so prevalent on the news. What a blessing! We were grateful to be home and subsequently began our 14-day quarantine.

I also got a chance to probe sophomore Natalie Turner’s mind about the whole matter.

When we first arrived, everyone seemed to be on edge. We used hand sanitizer every chance we got. As the trip went on, we were able to relax. We still used disinfectant almost religiously, but we didn’t roam around worried about someone sneezing near us. Honestly, it seemed like Paris was barely affected—except for the posters telling us to wash our hands everywhere. The native Parisians were still out and about. Everything seemed pretty normal. Of course, there were very few tourists. There was nearly no one at the Eiffel Tower, and the room that held the Mona Lisa at the Louvre was totally empty; in fact, workers there had to rush us through because they were closing an hour early to reduce the risk of COVID-19! It was the same in Nice. The people who worked in the hotel told us that once we checked out, they were going to be closed for three weeks because no one would be staying there. All schools in France also closed the day we left. Overall, everyone we saw was in good spirits and healthy! While we did have to wash our hands a ton, it was an amazing trip, and I’m so glad that I got to go on it. The amazing thing is that two weeks have now passed, and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has shown any symptoms!

Thankfully, everyone is home now, so we do not have to worry about that! Be sure to keep clean, and maybe get outside for a while. Help to flatten the curve. Hopefully, we can break it by May.