Stuck in Italy: How COVID tests stole a Webster family’s Christmas

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ROME (WHEC) — A Webster family is anxiously waiting for a homecoming for a woman stuck for weeks in COVID quarantine in Italy.

They’ve already missed Christmas together, New Year’s isn’t happening, and the wait could go on for months.

Chelsea Pullano had been on a tour of the pyramids and tombs of Egypt and cathedrals of Rome, but instead of heading home for Christmas, she’s been quarantined in an Italian hotel for almost three weeks, after a test at the airport established she had COVID-19.

"It never — for a minute — occurred to me that the laws would be different in Italy to let me out, then they would be in the U.S. to let me in," Pullano said.

Under Italy’s COVID-19 rules, traveling isn’t allowed until testing no longer spots the virus.

"My head was really spinning,” Pullano said. “More than anything, being with my family for the holidays was incredibly important. And that realization, even on that first day, that there was a high probability I was going to miss that was really upsetting to me."

The Sheraton Parco de Medici is one of more than 15 hotels around Rome holding COVID-19 patients, or travelers found to have it.
Pullano said she sat through 10 days of quarantine, then tested positive again, then again a week after that, all the while stuck in her room.

"So, I am on day 18 with no fresh air,” Pullano said. “I do what little exercise I can. There’s not a ton of floor room but there’s enough to do just squats, sit-ups, push-ups, so I try to do a little exercising just to keep myself moving and sane."

The U.S. state department told News10NBC, "In a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country’s laws, including COVID-19 quarantine requirements … U.S. citizens who test positive while abroad may have to extend their stay in a foreign country."

Pullano said she’s talked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and even U.S. Rep Joe Morelle’s Office (D, NY-25).

And she’s learned that the most sensitive COVID-19 tests could keep detecting virus for months after it’s no longer a threat.

"Under the new regulations, I would have been back in the United States by the 17th, well in time for Christmas,” Pullano said. “And now I’m looking at January 5 as another Hail Mary of ‘Maybe I’ll test negative and be allowed to come home.’"

Pullano says she has been able to work remotely for her job in New Jersey, but it’s been tough missing out on her Christmas trip to Webster.