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Vaccinated Minnesota nurse stuck in Mexico after testing positive for COVID

"You could test positive and you could get it and now I'm looking at being here potentially 19 days after my arrival," Diane Schmidt of Delano said.

Diane Schmidt of Delano has been sitting in a hotel room in Mexico since Thursday, unable to leave. 

"This could be a long week and a half if I really have to stay that long," Schmidt said. 

On March 27, Schmidt flew to Playa Del Carmen for her daughter's senior trip. They were joined by two other moms and their daughters. Another mom chose to get tested before leaving and ended up being positive for COVID-19; she and her daughter stayed home. 

Schmidt is a nurse practitioner at Children's Minnesota and has been fully vaccinated since the beginning of January. Even so, she opted to get the hotel's COVID insurance. The $30 insurance covers a person's stay at the hotel for an additional 14 days, including a room and food. 

"Now I'm really glad I signed that paper," Schmidt said. 

It started on Monday when Schmidt started experiencing a sore throat. Tuesday she developed a bit of a cough. 

"But it wasn't bad and, again, I just thought I was sleeping with the air conditioner on," Schmidt recalled. 

Wednesday she had some sinus pressure but still did not think it was COVID. On Thursday, she took a COVID-19 test in preparation for her flight on Saturday. Since the end of January, the Centers for Disease Control has required travelers flying to the U.S. from a foreign country to get tested no more than three days before their flight departs. Passengers must show proof of a negative test before boarding the flight. 

Credit: Diane Schmidt
Diane Schmidt from her balcony in Mexico. Her group left on Saturday.

Not even five minutes after taking the test, Schmidt received a call that she had tested positive. She's been quarantined ever since. Schmidt said it's likely she contracted the virus while on the flight, even though she took precautions like wearing a medical grade mask. 

More than 1.8 million Minnesotans have received at least one vaccine dose. As of April 2, the Minnesota Department of Health has identified 222 vaccine "breakthrough" cases. While it is still possible to contract the virus after receiving a vaccine, the current vaccines are highly effective at preventing people against severe disease. According to the CDC, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. 

Schmidt was the only vaccinated one in her group, yet no one else tested positive. 

"My case is definitely an outlier. I would still highly recommend the vaccine," Schmidt said. 

But Schmidt hopes sharing her story will help other people who are considering travel. The CDC recently updated its travel guidance for fully vaccinated people, saying they can travel in the U.S. and abroad. 

"You have to be aware that quarantine is very realistic and it's very possible that you may end up here. It's a very small room. They literally have a guard standing outside my door 24/7. You cannot leave... Do you have the patience to be able to do that? And is that vacation worth it, should you end up in quarantine?" Schmidt said. 

The CDC said fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States without needing COVID testing or post-travel self-quarantine as long as they continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling. 

"I would get tested before travel. Plan that it's very possible you could test positive," Schmidt said. 

Schmidt said a doctor is planning to stop by Tuesday to test her again. Every time she takes a COVID test it costs about $100. 

"You could test positive and you could get it, and now I'm looking at being here potentially 19 days after my arrival," Schmidt said.