Coronavirus

Inside One Houston Pharmacist’s Quarantine At The ‘End Of The World’

International travelers are having to navigate a patchwork of travel directives and mandatory quarantine rules to make their way home.

A view from the Ocean Endeavour ship.

The end of the world is a strange place to find yourself during a global pandemic.

Sam Aitken, a clinical pharmacy specialist in infectious diseases from Houston, was quarantined with his wife and 197 other passengers on a cruise ship off the coast of Ushuaia, Argentina for two weeks.

Ushuaia is known for being one of the southernmost cities in the world with the nickname “fin del mundo,” or, “end of the world.” Aitken was traveling on an expedition to Antarctica.

No cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed on board when their boat tried to dock, Aitken told Houston Public Media, but Argentinean officials had already implemented a mandatory quarantine for cruise ships.

More than 300 people including passengers and crew spent two weeks quarantined off the coast of Ushuaia, Argentina.

“The most concerning part about this entirety of this situation is really just the uncertainty,” Aitken said. “Uncertainty as to whether I’ll be able to get home in a timely manner and via what route, then uncertainty about what life is going to be like back in Houston.”

Stepping off the boat on Sunday, Aitken joined scores of other international travelers trying to navigate a patchwork of travel directives and mandatory quarantine rules. After flying to Buenos Aires, his connecting flight home was canceled.

Aitken works at a hospital in the Texas Medical Center and said he has observed from afar what his coworkers are dealing with as COVID-19 emerges in the Houston area.

“I see all the things that my colleagues are going through and I hear all the stresses that my colleagues are going through and I honestly just feel terrible every day that I’m not there,” he said.

Aitken said he’s reached out to the U.S. embassy and U.S. Representatives Dan Crenshaw (TX) and Tom Suozzi (NY) for help getting back home, to no avail.

As of Monday morning, Aitken was still trying to arrange travel back to the United States and said he’s currently unable to book a flight home due to flight cancellations.

This story is part of Houston Public Media's ongoing coronavirus coverage. For more stories and information about the coronavirus, visit our Houston Ready project.

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Elizabeth Trovall

Elizabeth Trovall

Immigration Reporter

Elizabeth Trovall is an immigration reporter for Houston Public Media. She joined the News 88.7 team after several years abroad in Santiago, Chile, where she reported on business, energy, politics and culture. Trovall's work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, Latino...

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Davis Land

Davis Land

Senior Producer

Davis Land is Houston Public Media's senior news producer. He leads coverage for News 88.7's morning newscasts and coordinates between beat reporters, newscasters, and the Houston Matters team. Before joining Houston Public Media, Land produced for WBUR's newscast unit and Atlantic Public Media. His work has been heard on NPR's...

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