Among those impacted by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic are three southwest Kansas men stranded in Peru, who learned on Thursday they may be confined for the next 30 days to rooms at their hostel – or face jail.
Dalton Burkhard, a physical education teacher at Bright Beginnings, an early childhood learning center in Dodge City, said he and two friends – Mykael Thompson, also of Dodge City, and Bryce Ackerman, of Spearville – flew together to Lima on March 14 for a quick spring break trip.
They’d planned to return home on March 21.
Thompson, 30, works at Boot Hill Casino. Ackerman, 32, is an accountant and chief operating officer at the Offerle Co-op.
“Two days after we got here they closed the border on us,” Burkhard said. “All flights are restricted and we can’t leave. Now we’re just waiting on the U.S. Embassy and everyone to help us out.”
The wait could be long. There were reportedly more than 2,500 Americans stranded in Peru when the borders closed. Fewer than half have been repatriated since, including close to 300 on Wednesday on flights out of Lima and Cusco, according to the U.S. Embassy.
The Kansans were in a restaurant bar in Lima on their second night, talking about plans to visit Cusco, when they saw the country’s president, Martin Vizcarra, on television, announcing he was shutting down the borders due to the pandemic. The order was for 14 days, until March 31.
“We tried to scramble and get flights, but all the flights were booked and the airlines were not taking more,” said Burkhard, 30. “We had maybe an eight-hour window to get something booked, but it didn’t happen.”
They didn’t get to any of their planned adventures, either, including visiting Machu Picchu and sandboarding.
“We walked around the city one day and then were confined to our hostel,” he said.
They are doing OK on money, Burkhard said, with it costing them about $30 a day, including a bed, meals and bottled water, since they can’t drink from the tap.
“It’s not terribly expensive for here,” he said. “But if we’re here too long it will get really expensive.”
They arranged to remain in the hostel where they initially stayed in the county. There’s close to 90 foreign visitors staying there, including a lot of Europeans, Burkhard said.
“We can’t even leave the hostel,” he said. “The citizens can go to the bank and grocery, but the military won’t let us leave where we are staying.”
He’s using the time, he said, “to learn a little more Spanish and try to catch up with my Dutch.”
There are cases of the novel coronavirus in Lima, but Burkhard was unaware of how widespread it was.
“I don’t think anyone in the hostel has had any symptoms,” he said. “We had a doctor in a couple of days ago who checked everyone and everybody was pretty clear.”
Burkhard spoke on his cellphone from a community room in the facility, which has ping pong tables, but is otherwise “a pretty small area,” he said.
Officials had handed down orders the inhabitants of the facility were not to gather there.
“If the military flies a drone over and they see us all together, they’ll make everyone stay in their rooms,” he said.
Both drones and helicopters have passed over the open courtyard.
“Our safe word is ‘police,’ ” he said. “It’s like we’re in high school all over. If somebody yells it, we split up and sprint and get to our beds if we can.”
The owners of the hostel have been very accommodating, Burkhard said. Most of their staff are stuck there too.
“They’ve done their best to keep us mentally stable and sane,” he said. “It’s very much appreciated. They’re risking fines and stuff for us.”
They’ve talked several times to the U.S. Embassy and their lawmakers from Kansas. Burkhard said he also has a friend in D.C. who talked with his boss.
“Our names are out there,” he said. “It’s really just a waiting game to see what the Peruvian government allows us to do. Even if we manage to book a flight, they can stop us. The fear we have is not being able to get to the airport or our flight.”
“Everybody keeps asking when we’re coming home, but we don’t know,” Burkhard said. “The scary thing is, even if the quarantine gets lifted they may not open the border. Chile closed theirs for 90 days.”
On Thursday, Burkhard said in an email: “It sounds like it’s about to get worse here. They might confine us to our rooms for 30 days and if we try to leave we will go to jail. Even with permission from the embassy to catch a flight.”