NASSAU, BAHAMAS – When Nikara Russell was faced with the decision to stay in Florida to ensure the completion of her Bachelor’s degree program, she immediately knew returning home would be a challenge amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
But on Friday, after weeks of uncertainty and consistent calls to foreign service officers to get back home, Russell was among the first 183 Bahamians to be repatriated to New Providence and Grand Bahama.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, she said, “It felt amazing being home. Just breathing in Bahamian air was just amazing.”
In early March, when The Bahamas had just recorded its first COVID-19 case and the first death, Russell was still in the depths of an internship at the Memorial Regional Hospital and Memorial South Hospital.
The 28-year-old is a senior at Bethune Cookman studying Medical Technology.
Russell explained that at the time everything was so uncertain.
She said what was clear however was that she and her husband had sacrificed a great deal so that she could be finished by June and there was too much at stake at the time.
With the virus continuing to spread throughout several pockets of the United States and The Bahamas’ borders closed to all incoming passengers, Russell said she soon found her situation even more onerous.
Cases in Florida began to increase and the hospitals that she was interning at were becoming overcrowded.
She said the hospitals decided to suspend the program due to the risks of students being infected by the virus.
But by that time, Russell said, The Bahamas’ borders had already closed.
She said her school did not have any initial plan for international students. They were told if they left the United States, there was a chance they could not come back.
However, soon after her internship was suspended, her classes made a shift to virtual lessons and she was advised that could still be able to complete her program by her expected date.
Russell said it was here, in late March, where she fervently began trying to get back home and reached out to the Bahamas Consulate in Miami.
She said she was in constant communication with foreign service officers.
When she finally received the call she had been long awaiting to return home, Russell said she was also given strict instructions to go to a nearby clinic to take a free COVID-19 test.
On Friday, with her negative diagnoses in hand and bags packed, the 28-year-old was finally able to board a flight home.
Russell said she eagerly approached the check-in counter that morning with her passport and results but was not required to present the latter.
She said she only had to show her test to a foreign service officer, who took her name and information.
Once finished with the T.S.A, she said she waited in the terminal with the other Bahamians and residents, all of whom were spread out throughout the area, careful not to be too close to one another.
She said they were boarded and seated on the flight one-by-one and also disembarked the same.
After getting off the flight, Russell recalled that each passenger was ushered through a series checkpoints to be examined by physicians and then onto a bus to be taken to the quarantine facility.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed that a previously positive COVID-19 patient was among the Bahamians repatriated.
The man, who has not been identified, traveled to Grand Bahama on the second repatriation flight of the day, along with 94 other passengers.
Russell called the revelation unfortunate, adding that the balled dropped somewhere down the line and it shouldn’t have
She noted however that even though there was a positive case, because of the specific protocol in place throughout their travel, there was a decreased the likelihood of other people being exposed.
The Medical Technology student was among 124 returning passengers who qualified to quarantine at home.
She said being able to go home to her husband was all she could hope for upon her return.
“It’s rough but at the same time this is what the world is facing now so we have to adjust,” Russell said.
“At the end of the day, there’s no place at home. Id’ rather be home going through crisis than be away going through it.”