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MSUB Student Narrowly Makes It Home From France Amid Coronavirus Shutdowns

Christian Bautista, a junior at MSUB, studying abroad in France.
Courtesy Christan Bautista
Christian Bautista, a junior at MSUB, studying abroad in France.

A Montana State University Billings student studying abroad in France when the coronavirus started to spread in Europe made it home last week after a chaotic journey. He took precautions as he traveled, like wearing a face mask, but now he's experiencing symptoms of the COVID-19 illness.

When Christian Bautista, a junior at MSUB studying finance, first started hearing about coronavirus, he didn’t think it was a big deal.

"I think the one piece of truth in the news kinda made us not take it as seriously was that it was kind of like the flu. It was around a 1 percent death rate, really young people would not have a problem with it," Bautista said.

NPR reports death rates for coronavirus range from 0.5 percent to 10 percent by country. The World Health Organization says while older people and people with pre-existing conditions are more vulnerable to the illness, young people can also become very sick.

But Bautista didn’t know that when French President Emmanuel Macron announced school closures on March 12. Other exchange students started to return to their home countries in droves.

"And it was all happening just strangely so fast. The next day I went to a friend's house, and at 10 am he had everything in his room packed and he was getting on a flight later that day. This happened on a Thursday night and by weekend ends about half the students had left," Bautista said.

Bautista decided he needed to get back to Billings. He booked a flight for March 18. The hard part? Getting to the airport in Paris, about a six hour bus ride from Strasbourg where Bautista was studying.

"When I got to the bus stop, the bus station was completely closed. No one was there."

Bautista called a taxi to the train station just in time to watch the last scheduled train leave. Bautista had 12 hours to catch his flight. The taxi driver who took Bautista to the train station recommended trying BlaBlaCar, a popular rideshare app in Europe similar to Uber.

"There was one car that was available that was leaving at midnight to take an overnight, kinda red eye drive to reach Paris airport by 5 a.m.," Bautista said.

When Bautista left Paris all the passengers on the plane wore face masks. As his connecting flights through Atlanta and Minneapolis brought him closer to Montana, Bautista noticed fewer people wearing masks.

"You know on the final end flight, really it was me, and I think maybe one or two other people on the plane had a mask on," Bautista said.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic March 11, exactly a week before Bautista left France. Two days later President Donald Trump retroactively declared a national state of emergency beginning the first of March.

Now that he’s home, Baustista has quarantined himself and says he’s experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 though he decided to not seek testing. Baustista says he feels the coronavirus is a silently moving enemy because of the long incubation period where people who might not have symptoms can pass the illness to others.

"So it is really quite scary when you consider how much more powerful this is compared to your average flu or your average sickness. I’m in pretty good health, and even for me it was kinda the worst sickness I’ve ever felt."

Bautista says people should protect themselves by following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention such as washing hands, practicing social distancing and staying home if you're sick. He says he’s starting to feel better.

"I’ll be getting there though. I’m on my way back," Bautista said.