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Michelle Phillips

I didn’t really want to go to Colorado when I left on March 11, but I had to go out and take care of some things at our house near the Royal Gorge.

When I got to the airport the lot was super full, and I had a hard time finding a place to park. 

I was incredibly apprehensive flying out, and took as many precautions as possible. I had a mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in my bag. Like some deranged germaphobe, I put on the mask and wiped down all of the plastic surfaces in my area as well as the seat belt.

Washing my hands for 20 seconds at a time was not a problem because of my paranoia about getting COVID-19. I stood at the sink in the restroom at Dane County Regional Airport, silently judging those that barely got five seconds into their handwashing before heading for the hand drier.

At the gate, every cough and sneeze was suspect. And all heads would turn to find the source of the sound. Was it the old woman with the tiny dog in an equally tiny carrier? Was it the college student sporting a Bucky sweatshirt and looking particularly pale? Or was it the man dressed in business casual with a polo shirt reflecting his place of employment? I couldn’t tell. 

Once I got to Colorado, I was in the mountains away from everyone except my husband, completely isolated from society. If it hadn’t been for my job and my pets, I would have stayed holed up in the mountains. 

I was in Colorado for one week, returning on March 18. For the entire time I was there I was worried about flying home because in that week, COVID-19 cases began to increase sharply around the country. 

When I got the Denver International Airport (DIA) that day, it was the quietest I had ever seen it. Normally DIA is bustling with activity and flights are landing and taking off every few seconds. Matt and I saw only two planes landing as we approached the terminal. 

Inside, the mood was somber and quiet. People were not even looking at one another. I walked right up to the security check-in. It took me all of 30 minutes to go from the terminal, where Matt dropped me off, to the gate. That time included two stops for handwashing and a trip on the train. I was very early, which made me even more nervous. I wiped down the seat before I sat down and proceeded to try to take my mind off being in an enclosed space with 49 other people. (My plane was switched from an Airbus to a much smaller regional jet.)

On the way to the gate you could hear every little sound in the airport. The most foreboding was the people mover, which I had never noticed before. It’s mechanical grinding sound every couple of seconds was like a manmade reminder of a naturally occurring killer. I could not get the sound out of my head for hours after experiencing it.

While I was on the plane, I started feeling sick, I had been having sinus issues in Colorado, which I had chalked up to the normal allergies I experience when I am there–the dust is really bad. I was feeling pretty good when I got on the plane, but halfway through the two hour flight, my headache came back.

The next day, I went out to get food, armed with a mask and hand sanitizer, and have been home ever since. I do not have a cough and my fever has been mild, but I have been staying in as a precaution because I don’t want to make anyone else sick, even if it is just a cold. Since I don’t have the classic COVID-19 symptoms, I can’t get tested.

I am a resilient person, not prone to irrationality or fear and, as an only child for 20 years, like to be alone, but on Sunday I had a small meltdown. I also am pretty happy most of the time and don’t really cry because I find it solves nothing and often makes the situation worse. But on Sunday, I was sobbing in the kitchen. This is such a rare occurrence, both of our cats came into the kitchen to see what was wrong and meow at me. Maybe just to remind me that I wasn’t really alone.

My husband is still in Colorado, and will be returning later in the week once he gets some repairs finished and the house closed back up. I am worried about this vast physical separation. I kept thinking what if I do have COVID-19, or Matt does, and one of is gets sick and dies? I might never see my husband again.

Then my mind wandered to my brother who has asthma and works in a hospital as a transporter. They hospital has done very little to protect him, and basically has told him to follow the guidelines for the public, frequent hand washing, coughing into your sleeve, etc. But there is no physical distancing for him. He is literally inches away from the people he is moving around the facility.

These two things triggered my meltdown. My husband and brother are the only immediate family I have, and I just couldn’t help but think that I could lose one or both of them to a virus.

My meltdown was brief, and soon I was back to normal and preparing stories for this week’s paper. I know that this pandemic can be unnerving and scary. Please take warnings seriously and stay home. The longer we continue to go out in public for non-essential reasons, the longer we will be in isolation. 

Stay safe, and stay inside.

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