We pull in front of the lab and the sign reads, “COVID-19 IgG and IgM Rapid Antibody Screen.” My husband Dan and I believe we may have been infected with the Coronavirus while on one of those ill-fated Asian cruises everyone heard about during the month of February when the pandemic first began.

I pop my head in the open doorway. “Good morning.” I greet the lab technician at the front desk, my words are muffled behind my war-torn N95 mask.

“Come in.” The lab tech beckons me. “You’re timing is perfect.” I’m a walk-in this morning for the COVID-19 antibody test at a lab in Santa Fe Springs, California. I tell the technician that we were in contact with someone in Asia who tested positive for the virus. He hands me a clipboard of paperwork to fill out and I take it back to the seclusion of our car.

Dan and I believe there is a high probability we were infected with the virus because we were at the epicenter of the outbreak in Asia when the virus was seeding travelers from all around the world.

After two weeks adrift at sea, we boarded a very unromantic Valentine’s Day flight from Cambodia where the Holland America ms Westerdam was docked to Kuala Lumpur. That evening a woman from our flight tested positive for the coronavirus which resulted in a halt of all flights for us remaining six Westerdam passengers.

The six of us were literally trapped in the airport, sleeping on the floor, until we either tested negative and given written permission to leave the country or tested positive and placed in a 14-day quarantine to battle the virus. Three days later we were escorted by armed agents to a make-shift medical tent erected solely for us in the basement of the airport. The nose and throat swabs collected by a medical team in full personal protective equipment, which looked like a scene from the movie “Outbreak,” took eight-hours to be analyzed and returned with a negative result. We immediately boarded a flight home with written clearance from the Minister of Health.

Once we arrived in the U.S., we were placed in home quarantine for two weeks and branded with the Scarlet Letter “C” for Coronavirus. We weren’t surprised by the hysteria and paranoia surrounding us. The second day of our dream cruise, all Asian ports denied us entry for the same fear. Even our own country wouldn’t provide a safe harbor for us to dock in Guam.

Today we are sheltering in our car at the lab in Santa Fe Springs awaiting our antibody results. “What if we’re positive?” I toss the question to Dan.

“I guess, if we’re positive, then that means we contracted the virus either on the ship or traveling home,” he says.

If I was found positive for having had COVID-19 and recovered; though, I could volunteer or donate my blood and plasma. Dan and I could also visit his mother who has been isolated at her memory care facility.

“What if we are negative for antibodies?” I ask Dan.

“If it’s a negative, then I guess we have been doing a good job at protecting ourselves from contracting the virus and we need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

His thinking is pragmatic, but part of me wants the test to come back negative for selfish reasons. A negative result would help to clear our name. When we returned to the U.S. there was skepticism behind the negative test results with us and other Westerdam passengers in Asia, and many so-called friends and neighbors purposely avoided and shunned us from the community.

Part of me would like to be able to thumb my nose at them, over my face mask of course, and say, “See, I told you we weren’t infected, but you treated us like pariah.” The irony is that now everyone is a suspected carrier.

The female nurse walks through the open glass door of the testing center and toward our car with our results. I snap my mask back into place and step out of the car to greet her. She points to the check mark on the paper and says, “You both are negative for COVID-19 antibodies. You may have come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, but you did not contract the virus yourself.”

Two weeks after this test Dan’s mother passed away. We never got the chance to visit and say goodbye.

Lori Salerno is a Southern California author of the forthcoming memoir, Pariah Ship: One Couple’s Dream Cruise Turns Coronavirus Nightmare

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