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Had things gone according to plan, the Heger family of three would be in Italy the week after next, visiting Florence, Venice and Rome, dining on pasta and visiting the country’s museums and other cultures. Instead, the novel coronavirus came to Italy, leading to more than 10,000 cases and 630 deaths.
Now, the Hegers plan to spend part of spring break in New Orleans, which as of March 11 had seen only a handful of cases and no deaths.
Coronavirus has upended many families’ spring break travel plans. Some families have rebooked trips to different destinations that are deemed safer. Others have canceled plans altogether. And some worry about potentially endangering elderly relatives lined up to care for grandchildren during the break.
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Most school districts advise parents to follow travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those returning from five countries must inform districts where they have been; for four of those countries the CDC asks returning travelers to stay home for 14 days upon their return.
The Hegers, who live in Indianapolis and have a daughter at an Indianapolis Public Schools school, had hoped that Italy’s outbreak would slow in time for them to go. But earlier this week Italy earned the unwelcome distinction of having the highest number of cases of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, outside China, and the government placed the entire country on lockdown.
The Hegers started spending hours on the phone with British Airways, which refunded their tickets and tried to help them find an alternate vacation destination.
“It does feel like a game show,” Rachael Heger said. “We’re not sure where we’re going to end up.”
Within 24 hours they had settled on New Orleans, though they had hoped to travel internationally. Loren Heger, Rachael’s husband, who had hoped to run the Rome marathon, registered to run the Carmel marathon instead.
School districts around Indianapolis offer parents much of the same advice: Avoid the highest risk countries, be prepared to self-quarantine for 14 days if you travel to one of those. One district, Warren Township, advised families who travel to keep in mind they could become stranded under some circumstances.
“Travelers should also note that the possibility exists that a state or country experiencing an outbreak could suspend travel in or out and could result in travelers being stranded,” Tim Hanson, superintendent of Warren Township schools, said in a statement on the district website.
Both Noblesville and Carmel Clay Schools noted on their websites that at some point U.S. authorities could impose domestic or regional travel restrictions as well. Noblesville’s statement encourages families to “reconsider any unnecessary travel.”
Reluctantly that’s what Rachel Wheeler, her seventh grader, and her mother decided to do about a long anticipated trip to Scandinavia. Sylvia, 12, had even been learning Swedish from the grandmother of a classmate in anticipation. Wheeler and her mother looked forward to visiting with a Swedish exchange student and his family they first met three decades ago.
Over the weekend, though, the trio decided to stay home, rather than risk contracting COVID-19 during a layover in Germany or winding up having to quarantine once they return home. They’re hoping to rebook over Christmas.
The Lammer family also decided to err on the side of caution. Cathy Lammer had spent at least 15 hours planning the dream Florida Disney vacation, including dinner reservations one night timed to coincide with a perfect view of the 9 p.m. fireworks display.
Last week marked one month until the trip was scheduled to begin, and Lammer knew if she was going to cancel, she had to do it 30 days prior.
Although the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States was still low and not many states had reported cases, she worried about what the future might bring. She wasn’t worried as much about her own health or that of her husband and twin 13-year-old boys as she was about infecting their elderly grandmother.
“The crowds at Disney were our biggest concerns,” the Noblesville resident said. “We just didn’t want to contribute to the spread of it. … I just felt like it’s nothing to play around with.”
Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at 317-444-6354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.
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