The Rollans return from Madrid amidst COVID-19 chaos


In order to combat the spread of COVID-19, President Trump issued a travel ban between the United States and most European countries on March 11, causing great concern for American citizens in Europe at the time. Junior Pablo Rollan and his brother, freshman Andres Rollan, were visiting family in Spain when they heard the news.

“I was asleep when the ban was announced,” Pablo said. “I woke up in the middle of the night and found 30 or 40 text messages from people asking how I was gonna get back, and if I was okay.” He didn’t want to wake his parents in the middle of the night, so he decided to go back to bed and deal with the issue in the morning.

That Thursday morning, Pablo and his brothers woke up to hear that their two-week trip was to be cut short; their parents told them to pack their things for an immediate departure back to the U.S.

They drove to the airport in Madrid from Salamanca to find that all the flights were booked. “There was this massive influx of Americans who needed to head back before the ban took place,” Andres said, “and the earliest flight we could get was that Saturday at noon.” Luckily for the Rollans, the travel ban only prevented non-U.S. citizens from entering the country. Despite this, however, there was great confusion over whether flights would still be operating.

“At this point, we had to decide whether to stay in Madrid or not,” Pablo said. On the one hand, Madrid was one of the epicenters of the virus in Europe, and they obviously didn’t want to become infected. On the other hand, leaving Madrid to return to Salamanca, a two-hour drive from where they were previously staying, could be risky if the flight plan changed unexpectedly. “In the end, we decided to stay in Madrid just in case we had to leave quickly,” Pablo said. “Luckily, we had a friend who let us stay in their apartment on short notice.”

Pablo and Andres wanted to make the most of their short time in Madrid, which was originally going to be a whole week, so they decided to walk around outside, only occasionally stopping to go inside. “The streets were empty,” Pablo said. “All the Madrid residents decided to leave the city for their houses in the country so they did not get sick.” As a result, the family had the city to themselves and had as much fun as they could under the tough circumstances.

When the day finally came to depart, the Rollans boarded the plane with hundreds of other Americans who had to leave Spain, mostly college students studying abroad. When they landed at JFK airport, the Rollans waited on the plane for an order from the CDC, who informed the passengers that they were required to self-quarantine for two weeks once they got home. “There were more hours waiting and filling out paperwork while we were all stuck in a small room with the hundreds of other people who had just gotten off the plane,” Pablo said. “It seemed risky to keep us all in the same room for so long.”

When the Rollans finally returned to their home in Wallingford, they followed the instructions given by the CDC and stayed inside for two weeks. “Even now, we barely leave the house,” Andres said, “maybe just to walk the dog. Other than that, we’re still in isolation like most.”