A Mexican vacation amid an outbreak
May 8, 2009
Katie Cattan and her husband, Josh, arrived at Salt Lake International on a recent Sunday, eager for their vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
There was news on the airport television about an illness, called swine flu, that had sickened people in Mexico City.
The capital city, though, is far from the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, where Cattan, who is a City Hall planner, had arranged to stay in a timeshare made available by another person who works for the municipal government.
The couple boarded the plane and made it to Cabo San Lucas, a famous tourist destination, beginning a vacation made memorable as fear about the swine flu outbreak shrouded the resort area. It was "pretty mellow" when she arrived, Cattan says, but Cabo San Lucas later became a panicked place.
"I hold nothing against Mexico. I feel bad for the locals, because the economy is struggling," Cattan says.
Cattan and her husband were in Mexico from April 26 until May 2, a week when many people in the Park City area became worried as suspected swine flu cases were reported locally. The Park City School District canceled classes, business in some places sank and officials made a statewide plea that Park City was a safe place for people to visit.
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Cattan describes the scene in Cabo San Lucas when she arrived as being buzzing, like the ski season is in Park City. But the place became like a "ghost town" as tourists worried about the sickness left to go home.
"It was dead. There were no tourists down there," she says. "Going out to dinner, everyone was trying to pull you into their restaurant."
The cruise ships that normally pull into port there stopped coming, she says, worsening the situation for the Cabo San Lucas businesses. On a typical day, huge crowds would disembark from the cruise ships headed into the city. Cattan says the cruise ships started canceling their stops midweek.
"They depend on those cruise ships. They have thousands coming in on a daily basis," Cattan says.
Cattan and her husband, who live in Summit Park, had heard that the sicknesses caused by the swine flu had been found to resemble those of a typical flu. Their worries lessened, they stayed in Cabo San Lucas for the full vacation.
"It was extremely quiet as the week went on," she says, adding that the people in Cabo San Lucas were displeased with the Mexican officials for creating "more of a problem than it really was."
But the swine flu scare made their trip back to Utah an unusual experience. At the airport in Mexico, the two were required to fill out a questionnaire about their health. Cattan says the Mexican authorities wanted to learn whether passengers had fevers or runny noses, among other questions.
The authorities at the airport also took their temperatures before boarding passes were issued for the flight to Salt Lake City, she says.
Cattan returned to Utah on a Saturday and checked in at work on Monday. She was told to contact Hugh Daniels, who manages City Hall’s emergency programs and played a key role in the municipal response to the swine flu, before starting work again. She says Daniels told her she could return to work since she had been in the U.S. for 48 hours.
Cattan’s cubicle at the Planning Department was awaiting her. It had been cordoned off by plastic wrap and ‘Caution’ tape, a practical joke arranged by her co-workers.
"I was really worried I would bring it home to my daughter," she says.