The week after we came back from St. Petersburg had a quickly changing situation due to corona virus. UEF began discussing the need to restrict meetings, class sizes, and online instruction. Between Monday and Friday the 13th the situation was rapidly changing. Late Friday the 13th the US State Department sent out an email encouraging Fulbright awardees to return to the United States. Likewise, NCSU was encouraging people to return to the US if they were in a country that reached CDC Level 3 – that also occurred on the 13th. The university here in Finland suspended face-to face teaching so everything was going to go online.
We found out about the change at about 8 am on the 14th. Our initial plan was to fly from Helsinki to London and then take a direct flight from Heathrow to Raleigh on Sunday (15th) morning. We made it to London and found a nice B&B near the airport (it was built in the 1600s).
While getting dinner (fish and chips) we learned that the Department of Homeland Security had changed their policy about American citizens returning to the US. If you were in an affected country (China, Iran, Schengen countries) you now had to enter the US through one of 13 airports (RDU was not one of them). The new policy was in place when we purchased our tickets on Saturday morning and it’s clear the airlines had no advanced warning or system in place to deal with the order. American Airlines couldn’t be reached by either phone or online so I scrambled to get tickets to DC (Dulles) via Travelocity. At Heathrow a large number of US citizens were denied access to their flights and it was a madhouse before security.
Fortunately we did catch our flight to Dulles so we could undergo “advanced medical screening”. In our case this amounted to being herded onto one of their terminal transfer busses with about 100 other passengers (nothing like confinement to help spread a respiratory disease) for about 1 hr. We were parked on the tarmac the entire time – we had to fill out a form listing countries we visited and whether we had symptoms.
Passengers from the UK were separated – with travelers to the UK not having to undergo advanced medical screening (despite their attack rate being higher than many Schengen countries). Our advanced medical screening consisted of a screener asking the same questions as those on the form and then sending us on (although he did have a thermography unit). Dulles was pretty empty.
We then caught the last flight to RDU and my son Robby picked us up at about midnight. We are now in a self imposed quarantine for two weeks. The University of Eastern Finland has gone online for all classes so I will be completing my teaching remotely. We hope to get back to Finland in late May early June although those dates may need to change. In the meantime this is our last blog posting. We hope you enjoyed these adventures. We really enjoyed our all too short time in Finland.
Dave and Melanie