Since University of Mary Washington political science professor Elizabeth Larus got back from Poland on Monday night, she’s been quarantined in her room.
Her husband and three children are at home with her, but she’s trying to stay separated from them as much as possible.
“We are keeping a distance of about six feet,” Larus said. “My husband is bringing meals to my room.”
She ventured out of her room only to wash the clothes she traveled home from Poland in, wearing latex gloves.
“I’ve got the windows open for air. But two weeks will be long,” Larus said.
She had been in Warsaw since late December, on a Fulbright Scholarship grant.
Between March 7–12, she traveled to Hungary. Less than 48 hours after she returned to her apartment in Warsaw, Poland shut its borders as a response to the spread of coronavirus—an unusual move in a European Union country where free movement between national borders has been encouraged.
“I had seriously thought of extending my time in Budapest, just through the weekend,” Larus said. “If I had, I probably would have been shut out of Poland.”
Quickly, everything in Warsaw shut down, except for convenience stores and pharmacies, which only allowed in two people at a time.
“And I mean, everything shut down—all the restaurants, the pubs, dry cleaners, dentists, hair salons,” Larus said. “They were also much quicker in limiting the number of people who could gather at one time.”
Last week, the Fulbright program started encouraging its scholarship recipients to return home.
“They never physically put us on planes, but they made it very clear if we didn’t go now, this week, we might not get out for months, and we’re talking two or three months,” Larus said.
Larus was able to book a flight home on KLM Airlines for March 21. She sat in Warsaw’s Chopin International Airport watching flight after flight on the departure board switch to “canceled.”
“Everyone was really maintaining distance,” she said. “Everyone was wearing a mask and half the people had gloves.”
Larus tied her scarf around her face.
Arriving back in the U.S., Larus said she was surprised by how “casual” the response to the virus seemed compared to the precautions taken in Europe.
“I expected more of a health screening [at Dulles airport],” she said. “All they did was take my temperature. I expected a swab. I asked what I should do for quarantine and they said, ‘Just stay in your home for a couple of weeks.’ I thought they were kind of casual about it. I know people in Europe had their bedrooms sealed and people bringing their food with gloves.”
“I think we need to be more vigilant,” Larus said.
As of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization, there were 1,389 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Poland, and 10 deaths.