On March 8, Dayna Mcleod admits that she scoffed at the idea of a pandemic bringing the world to its knees.
She was the first person to laugh it off . . . “oh, my God, you’re being so paranoid,” she remembers thinking.
On March 13, her life changed forever.
There was no more paranoia. There was no more taking it lightly.
COVID-19 was an immediate threat, and the Santa Barbara native needed to protect her 12-year-old daughter.
Residing in El Masnou, Spain — a country put into complete lockdown due to coronavirus — a Presidential Proclamation was made by President Donald Trump, limiting travel to the United States — putting Ms. Mcleod in a difficult position.
After she and her daughter, Madison, fell ill due to a bug bite, it triggered the idea of returning to Santa Barbara to be surrounded by a deeper support system.
Ms. Mcleod worried that if she contracted COVID-19 — much like the rest of Spain and the world — she wouldn’t have anyone to care for Madison.
So, each day, she’d buy plane tickets, knowing she could cancel at any time. Each morning, she’d jettison a reservation and look for times the next day.
She was stuck — stay in Spain and hope that the virus was contained quickly, or return home, where there was a possibility of being quarantined for 14 days upon arrival in the United States.
The decision was essentially made for her on the night of March 13, when she received this message from United Airlines.
“UA 121: We’re sorry to let you know that due to Presidential Proclamation, travel from Barcelona to the United States has temporarily been restricted. We’re offering flexible options to rebook your flight at a later time, or you can use the value of your ticket toward a new destination.”
The next few hours are an absolute blur to Ms. Mcleod.
There were only two hours to not only pack, but also get to the Barcelona Airport.
“That was my moment, either we had to stay or we had to go. We had two hours to make the flight. I had to make a decision,” Ms. Mcleod said.
Back to the United States, she decided.
So, frantically, both Madison and Ms. Mcleod threw as much as they could into a pair of suitcases and took off for the airport.
What awaited them was shocking.
The 29th-busiest airport in the world was empty.
It was a ghost town.
“It was the oddest thing ever,” Ms. Mcleod said.
Needless to say, Madison was stressed out — a 12-year-old isn’t really prepared for instances such as this.
“And, honestly, neither was I,” Ms. Mcleod said.
They went from home isolation, with no one on the roads to nearly everyone wearing masks and gloves, to a relative uncertainty of what would greet them in the U.S.
“We saw pictures from Chicago, where lines were backed up for screening. If we had to deal with that, we were for sure convinced that we’d get sick. The photos I was seeing were ridiculous,” Ms. Mcleod said.
So, she chose a direct flight into LAX instead — spending $1,200 apiece for one-way tickets on Norwegian Airlines.
As they got to the gate, there were hundreds waiting to board the flight, as it was the last flight out. Ms. Mcleod remembers seeing people changing gloves constantly, wiping down everything with Clorox wipes and utilizing masks — including themselves.
The entire ordeal was stressful — particularly because what awaited them in the U.S. was so uncertain.
“I was trying to remain calm in front of her, but I was thinking the worst,” Ms. Mcleod said.
The flight wasn’t a relaxing one, with both of them having heightened anxiety.
“I am convinced that it was stress-induced,” Ms. Mcleod said.
But the stress wasn’t over.
Upon deplaning the gigantic 787 aircraft, Ms. Mcleod fully expected that each passenger would be thoroughly tested, especially since they had just arrived from a country that was on complete lockdown due to the coronavirus.
Passengers quickly had their temperatures taken — “one had one, but the person said it was probably because the passenger had a hat on, and the person was coughing,” Ms. Mcleod said — and were not told to self-isolate.
When asked by passengers about next steps, the screener began to laugh and handed them a pamphlet.
“If you’re feeling symptoms, just call this number. But only if you really feel like it,” Ms. Mcleod remembers the person saying. “They were literally laughing about it. That showed me that people aren’t taking it seriously.”
After the drive home to Santa Barbara on Monday night, Ms. Mcleod visited a local pharmacy the following morning, only to see people going about their daily lives, making their way into coffee establishments, lining up on top each other at varying grocery stores and overhearing parents talking about setting up playdates because their children are bored.
“I couldn’t believe it, because I was them just 10 days ago. I was that person. So was everyone else in Spain,” Ms. Mcleod said. “Now, I was just dumbfounded that the United States hadn’t learned from us. In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen 2,500 people diagnosed. It’s spreading like wildfire. Our healthcare system will not be able to handle this — just like in Spain — and America is in for a huge surprise.
“It’s so difficult to watch it unfold for a second time.”
In Spain, there are 18,077 confirmed cases, with 833 deaths and 1,107 that have recovered.
To date in the United States, there have been 14,202 confirmed cases, with 205 deaths and 108 have recovered.
Back in Spain, Ms. Mcleod has been in touch with Madison’s tennis coaches and babysitter, as they relay how dire the situation has become, with messages such as:
“We every day (have) more infected people and looks (like) it’s just the starting point.”
“I can’t work, I can’t make money . . .”
“Hope USA wakes up on time . . . Cause Spain is out of control and we were thinking that it was a joke during weeks (me included).”
Ms. Mcleod understands the panic that is growing in the United States, she’s been there.
“Watching this unfold, I feel like I’m from the future, I feel like I know what is going to happen next,” Ms. Mcleod said. “I’m so shocked that America didn’t learn from Italy, from Spain, from Iran. They’ve had the time and it’s just been downplayed so much.
“You don’t want people to be alarmed or panicked, but you want people to be educated — and they just aren’t.”
While living in Spain, Ms. Mcleod learned a different approach to life, one less focused on careers and making money, instead on enjoying what life has to offer.
She’s choosing to use this as a lesson she is applying now, focused on spending precious time with loved ones.
“Americans are obsessed with money . . . work, work, work . . . go, go, go,” Ms. Mcleod said. “Spaniards are never going to die from a heart attack. They have a much better grasp on what’s important in life.”
Yet, she is speaking her truth because she feels that American neighbors don’t value each other’s lives nearly enough.
“This is so hard for me because I just want to shake people and say, ‘Wake up!’ But people have to learn and go about their own thing, I understand that,” Ms. Mcleod said. “Coming from a country that has been hit like this already, I’m just shook. Especially from the United States of America, this is not a third-world country. How can we be in so much denial here? I just don’t understand. I expected it in Spain, but not here.”
And, despite California’s order late Thursday night mandating everyone to stay home, Ms. Mcleod is less than optimistic — pointing to the fact that people can still exit their homes, whereas in Spain, you’d receive a 600-euro fine if you left your home without written permission, with most residing in apartments without big yards.
“I’m afraid it’s too late. So many thousands have it here, and they haven’t been tested,” Ms. Mcleod said. “So many think it is the common flu or common cold, just like the rest of us did in Spain. How could America not learn from that?”