A Norwich woman went on vacation to Peru with family; now, she's scrambling to get them home.
Lindsay Masse has been on her phone and computer nonstop. But not because she’s working from home or scrolling the internet to pass time.
The 31-year-old Masse of Norwich has been spending every waking hour trying to get her brother, sister and father back to the U.S. from Peru, where they are stuck following a family vacation.
Her family is not alone. With countries closing their borders and airlines canceling flights in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. State Department estimates 50,000 Americans are stranded abroad. In Peru, the situation has been particularly difficult. A State Department employee told NPR recently that personnel within the civil aviation authority there contracted COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, as did some on the civilian side of the airport, so the country is “trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport.”
A Facebook group called "Americans stuck in Peru" had more than 5,000 members as of Friday afternoon, including people like Masse trying to get their family members home and those stuck in the country. They’ve been trading information, as they get it, about flights out of the country and how to get on them. Masse has been in touch with a man in the group who is from New Jersey and stuck in the same city as her family.
“I told the guy to please keep in contact with me, if he finds any way out, and we will do the same with him,” Masse said.
“People need to know that there is still so many stuck in Peru with no way out and the only thing they can do is just wait. It’s a waiting game for so many,” she said. “American citizens who are running out of money and are even risking their jobs here not being able to come back.”
Masse and her two children left Feb. 27 for Peru to visit family with her brother, sister and father, all of whom are American citizens and live in New London.
On March 15, the day before Masse and her children were to fly home, President Martin Vizcarra declared a state of emergency and announced that Peru would close its borders for at least 15 days the next day to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Vizcarra also ordered citizens to self-quarantine for 15 days. Masse was able to get on a bus from Chimbote, a port city in northern Peru where she and her family were staying, to the airport in Lima about 265 miles away, and got on the last flight out of Peru to New York City on March 16.
Her family was not as lucky. Her father, Rogelio, who traveled to the airport with her but was not allowed inside because he did not have a plane ticket for that day, brother Armando and sister Heather all had a flight scheduled for March 27. They were not able to change their flight, Masse said, because there was no room on any other flights before the state of emergency took effect.
Since returning home, Masse, who’s been self-quarantining, said her only focus has been her family in Peru.
“I came home and fast got on the computer and started to ask for help,” she said, and that’s when she found the Americans stuck in Peru Facebook group.
Masse has contacted her representatives in Congress and has been in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Peru for help. She checks her email when she wakes up every morning and before she goes to bed every night to make sure she doesn’t miss any new information, and has spent hours on the phone trying to track down a flight for her family, who she’s been communicating with through Facebook. Her phone, she said, has been attached to her hand.
“I can’t focus on anything else and I’m expected to go back to work on Monday but in reality my mental health is not there because all I’m focused on is bringing my family back home one way or another,” Masse said.
While she worries about her entire family, she’s particularly concerned about her sister, who is diabetic and doesn’t have a consistent supply of insulin in Peru. Her father has been scouring pharmacies in town and reaching out to people he knows to see if he can find a doctor or nurse who will deliver insulin, but it’s hard to come by, she said. He was lucky to recently find a pharmacy that just got a supply of insulin in. He paid 200 soles, the equivalent of about $60, for a supply that will last his daughter three weeks maximum.
Her family — her father and sister work at Mohegan Sun and her brother works at Foxwoods — is running out of money, Masse said, and while her sister’s health insurance in the U.S. covers her insulin, she’s having to pay out of pocket in Peru. They are hourly workers at the casinos, both of which are closed for at least two weeks, so they have no income coming in at the moment.
Masse's mother, who lives in New London and also is employed at Mohegan Sun, started receiving unemployment compensation from the state and has been sending that money to Masse's father, who has to hail a taxi with a mask on and pick up the money from a Western Union, to cover the cost of insulin and food, she said.
Masse said she doesn't expect her family to be able to come home until at least mid-April. Peru’s president this week said he is extending the country’s state of emergency until April 12. The country had 580 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday. Masse said she was able to book a flight for her family on April 14 that she hopes they will be able to get on.
But, as has been the case all along, she said, “it’s a waiting game.”
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