cayman cat
Irina Dobrolyubova/getty images

Dabee Kaye had been looking forward to her holiday vacation for months. She and her family were fully vaccinated and had taken the necessary precautions to travel. Somehow, though, she got a breakthrough COVID case and suddenly her trip became a nightmare. We chatted with Dabee, Gallery Media Group’s VP of Brand Partnerships, who is currently quarantining in Grand Cayman after testing positive on December 26. She told us about what it’s been like being separated from her family, not knowing when she’ll be able to get home and living with a tracking bracelet 24/7.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

‘It’s our favorite place in the world.’

This was my family’s third trip to Grand Cayman. It’s our favorite place in the world. We love it here, we stay at the same hotel and we typically come for Christmas—it’s awesome.

The week before our trip, we self-quarantined on purpose because we didn’t want to screw our vacation up. In that week, I went to Duane Reade once and the grocery store once. My daughter Jordan had a class exposure the week before, so she was home from school the whole week, and my husband Andrew never goes anywhere anyway. Besides Duane Reade and the grocery store, I went to get my COVID test—and pulled my mask down there—and then to the airport and on the airplane…that’s it.

[We only felt comfortable taking the trip because] anyone traveling to the island has to be fully vaccinated, children included. My daughter is vaccinated, and my husband and I are vaccinated and boosted. Still, you have to test 24 hours in advance of your flight. We did PCR and rapid tests, and all of those were negative. Once you arrive to Grand Cayman, you take subsequent COVID tests on day two, day five and either day ten or 24 hours before you go home.

‘I got an email with the positive result.’

We got here in the late afternoon on the 24th and were having a great time. We hung around the hotel on the 24th and the 25th, and then on the 26th we tested. My husband and daughter were in the ocean and I was on my way to go get a massage when I got an email with the positive result for my test (my husband and daughter were both negative). I freaked out, went running to the beach to try to get my family but couldn’t find them right away, so I came up to the room and started packing, because I knew there was a quarantine floor but I had no idea what the process really was. I called the front desk and told them I had just tested positive, and they said, ‘OK, let’s make arrangements to move you to the quarantine floor.’

When we left our original hotel room, there was a man in something that looked like a space suit with like a big hose—it reminded me of Ghostbusters. As we were escorted to the quarantine floor, he followed us down the hallway and he sprayed the hallway behind us to sanitize.

‘It feels like I’m in jail.’

Once we got to the quarantine floor, someone from Travel Cayman (a branch of the Cayman Islands Government) came to the hotel room and put tracking devices on me and Andrew (I would not allow them to put one on Jordan). The tracking device looks kind of like a hospital bracelet with a QR code and it’s connected to a phone. Once it’s activated, if you go out of range, it sets off an alarm. If the alarm sounds and they determine you were intentionally breaking rules, you can be arrested and fined up to $10,000. On the quarantine floor, there’s a small table in front of every door, where things like food, water or medication are left to minimize contact. All of the elevators on the floor are locked and the only way out is a back elevator that’s watched by a security guard. It feels like I’m in jail.

Because I’m fully vaccinated and boosted and pretty sure I got the omicron variant, I only had minor symptoms for two days. I had a stuffy nose and a little bit of a scratchy sore throat, but I never had a fever. So, I had a bad cold. I took some Sudafed and some Advil Cold and Sinus and that’s it.

‘I spent four days trying to get my husband and daughter out.’

The challenge was that my husband and daughter were negative, but because they were exposed, they still had to quarantine. Because of that, I was able to talk the hotel into giving us a two-bedroom suite (versus a one-bedroom), so I could have my own space to quarantine.

So, our quarantine began on December 26, and I spent four days trying to get my husband and daughter out, since they continued to test negative. My husband and daughter were allowed to leave the island on December 31, after I put an entire proposal together, sent it to my nurse, who pitched the chief medical officer and got them approved and out.

In the proposal I included medical articles about the transmission rate, information about how the CDC had changed the quarantine guideline to five days, their negative test results, etc. Basically saying, ‘Please, let my family go. They are negative and we tested them every single day on purpose to show that they came negative, they remain negative.’ So they ended up leaving on the 31st.

They removed my husband’s tracking band, and 15 minutes before they were set to leave, someone came and took their bags to fully sanitize them. Another example of how strict security was: When Jordan and Andrew left, I watched them walk down the hallway and the security guard quickly came back to tell me I had lingered in the hall too long. What’s challenging is that I haven’t seen Jordan, I haven’t physically touched her since December 26.

‘You don’t want to know what it’s costing me.’

Since my family left on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been alone in this suite. From a practical standpoint, this ordeal is hugely expensive. You don’t want to know what it’s costing me. The hotel gave me a COVID rate for the room that’s less than what it would cost normally, but there’s no food included, the only things I get are bottled water, tea and coffee. I know of another family who was at a hotel and decided to move to a two-bedroom condo to quarantine, and I’d say the absolute smartest move is to stay in a hotel, because you can get room service, water, etc. I needed a prescription, so I called a pharmacy and got a two-week prescription. The hotel manager went and picked it up for me—the hotel has been amazing. Still, it’s very expensive. Now, if I had travel insurance, I could’ve utilized that, so my bad for not having it. I could also Medevac out of here, but that would cost $30,000 to $40,000.

I also can’t get my clothes washed. They’ve said, ‘We will try to do your clothes,’ but they don’t want to mix my clothes with anyone else’s, so it hasn’t happened yet. For some random reason I had two Tide travel packets, so I was able to wash some things, but at this point I’m basically rationing my clothes. (The other day, I wore a bathing suit, so I didn’t have to get any clothes dirty. I just sat around in a bathing suit and a robe that was in the room.)

‘Peloton has been my rising star.’

Mentally, it’s been really tough, but two things have saved me: My room has a small balcony (from which I can see the ocean), and I’ve been able to exercise. I typically work out every day, and since I have nothing else to do here, I’ve been doing, on average, four or five streaming classes a day (Peloton has been my rising star). Luckily, I requested five-pound weights and a yoga mat, and I got them. Which, again, if I was at a different place, I don’t know that I would’ve gotten this.

I was told that Grand Cayman is being especially strict because it’s a small island and they don’t want to expose or infect the entire island. I get it. I want to protect this island too, I absolutely love it. I will say, though, that the tracking device on my wrist seems unnecessary.

As for what happens next, I’m currently waiting on the results of another PCR test (which cost $180 for the most “affordable” option). Once those come back, I’ll send them to my public aid nurse along with an email I’ve prepared with a case for why I should be allowed to leave.

‘I learned a ton from this experience.’

All in all, I’ve learned a ton from this experience. First, if you’re going to travel internationally right now, stay at a hotel; do not stay at an Airbnb or other rented house, and make sure it’s a known hotel. You need mainstream right now, and not only do these bigger hotels have certain company-wide measures and procedures in place, but they’re also likely going to take care of you because they’re big chain hotels and their reputation is on the line.

I’m so grateful that we chose this hotel, but I also feel stupid that I don’t have insurance and that we traveled in the first place. Everybody canceled their international trips and went to Florida or California, and you know what, shame on us.

I’m also thankful that I’m a glass-half-full person, but I cannot wait to get home. It’s been really hard for my daughter, but at least now she has school as a distraction. And what’s frustrating is that I want to right the wrong. Where am I going to take her for MLK weekend? Should we come back here next Christmas because this is her favorite place, too? What do I do?

For now, all I can do is wait to be released from quarantine, FaceTime my family back in New York and thank my lucky stars for the Peloton app.

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