Flint couple stuck in Peru as government closes international borders amid COVID-19 concerns

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 9:46 PM EDT
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(03/24/20) - A flint couple's dream vacation in Peru took a drastic turn when the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency three days after they arrived.

“The first few days was spectacular and the last eight days have been frustrating,” Paxton MacDermaid said.

Ashlee Garcia and Paxton MacDermaid were on a plane ride to Cusco when their tour guide learned of the emergency declaration on March 15.

“We were a little freaked out. We didn’t know exactly what that entailed because it was a surprise to everybody,” MacDermaid said.

MacDermaid is ready to get home to Flint to help his community deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but says he has had a hard time just getting in contact with anyone from the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru.

“We just felt like we were left on our own, like ‘you guys need to go and figure it out,’” MacDermaid said.

MacDermaid and Garcia booked the trip eight months in advance. It was a special vacation because it was to take place after Garcia, a Navy service-member, came home from deployment.

"This was a long time in planning," MacDermaid said. "We were really looking forward to it."

He says if they knew they were walking into a risky situation, they would have postponed the trip.

“When we did leave we didn’t feel wasn’t announced that it was an emergency in the United States," MacDermaid siad. "In this country there’s only 240 cases of the virus, not in the city that we’re in right now, so we didn’t feel like we were going into a bad situation.”

It is a situation that is rapidly changing. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now 416 cases and seven deaths linked to COVID-19 in the South American country as of Tuesday evening.

They’ve been confined to their hotel now for eight days where they’ve been provided meals. They’ve kept in touch with family and friends through messages and video calls. The couple has had a hard time getting any help from the U.S. Embassy and State Department.

“We contacted the embassy right away, the consulate in Cusco, and we walked down there because we couldn’t get them on the phone," MacDermaid said. "And they just had a paper on the door saying they were closed until the 30th so we called the embassy in Lima and we only got voicemails.”

ABC12 called the U.S. Embassy in Lima Tuesday. and received a similar response. On its website, however, it says flights from Peru to the U.S. have been delayed. It says the U.S. is seeking permission from the Peruvian government to land planes arriving from the U.S.

ABC12 also reached out to Congressman Dan Kildee. He said he's working to bring the couple home.

“My office is working around the clock to help constituents like Paxton and Ashlee who are currently overseas and trying to get home. We have been in touch with Paxton and Ashlee and we are working with the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Lima and airlines to bring them home as soon as possible,” Kildee said.

“If any constituent is stranded overseas during the coronavirus pandemic, please contact my office for help.”

Paxton and Ashlee are in Peru with hundreds more Americans who are stuck.

"We can walk around the hotel, but it is getting kind of stir crazy. There’s some other people from Michigan here and I can see it weighing on them,” MacDermaid said.

They have a flight scheduled for April 4, but he’s doubtful they’ll actually be able to leave. Paxton is especially concerned because he has a family to look after in Flint and he works in an essential business, providing tech support, security and IT for local businesses and medical facilities. He wants to help his community as it deals with the pandemic.

Any traveler that is currently stuck overseas should enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program and contact Congressman Kildee’s office by telephone at (810) 238-8627 to see if we can be of assistance

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