Santa Fe musician Jono Manson arrived in Italy on Feb. 8 and was supposed to stay there—performing and recording—until March 10. But he cut his trip short, returning to Santa Fe on Feb. 29 after the outbreak of the new coronavirus, COVID-19 began to spread across Italy.
"I made a decision to change my ticket to get home not so much because of fear of the virus, but fear of being stuck somewhere," Manson tells SFR. He had spent five days recording in La Spezia starting Feb. 23 when response to the virus began to amp up. "They were closing off entire towns."
His last two days, in Milan, Manson says the impact of the viral spread was "palpable." For one, "everyone looked sad and the Italians are pretty happy people. Places that were usually crowded were empty, even when I got down to the airport—and I've flown in and out of that airport many times—I've never seen it so quiet," he says.
Even before he returned to the US, Manson and his wife were wondering what precautions he should take returning from a country the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified as Level 3, meaning non-essential travel should be avoided, and those returning from such countries should self-isolate for 14 days. China, South Korea and Iran also have been categorized as Level 3.
Manson decided to isolate. As of March 5, he has yet to return to his home, and plans to remain away until the evening of March 14.
That decision was bolstered by conversations with state health officials after Manson voluntarily self-identified to the New Mexico Department of Health's COVID-19 epidemiology hotline. The state has asked anyone who has traveled to a high-risk country (Japan also is on the list, although as of press time was at Level 2) to check in, as well as those who have been in contact with someone who has the virus. As of now, New Mexico has zero cases, although it has begun testing.
"They spoke to me with clarity and a degree of confidence that was inspiring," Manson says about his experience with the state coronavirus hotline. "Up until then, during that last week [in Italy], we were trying to get information from government agencies on both sides of the ocean and neither could tell us anything."
Manson says the health department also recommended he self-isolate, and now checks in with him daily. At their request, he records his temperature for them twice a day.
"I'm not exhibiting any symptoms with coronavirus," he says. "But because of my travel history and the fact I was in some of the hotspots, there was some question of whether I should be tested. In fact, yesterday they were going to have me come in and be greeted by the guys or gals in the hazmat suits."
Ultimately, because Manson has not had symptoms—which include fever, cough or shortness of breath—he most likely will not be tested. "There's a part of me that would welcome being tested just to know," he says. But for now, he's voluntarily self-isolating and waiting to go home. "I'm alone in a house in Santa Fe and I haven't had any face-to-face contact," he says.
Manson, understandably, can't wait to go home, but has no doubts about his decision.
"Despite a few days of anguish of 'are we doing the right thing?' and this and that, I'm convinced this is the right thing to do. The hardest part is I have a 9-year-old daughter and a wife." He and his wife, Manson notes, are adults who can "work through things" but his absence is harder on his daughter. "First off, my kid was super excited I was coming home early. It's always tough when I travel for work. The first few days were saddening and confusing, especially for her." Still, he notes, "even my kid knows we're doing the right thing. Sometimes the right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do."
He says he's been trying to stay productive, catch up on work and write new music, yet notes, "I'm not a rich person and can't really afford to be out of work for two additional weeks." Moreover, he worries about the impact of the virus on other musicians as events and large gatherings are cancelled.
Manson counts himself lucky, though, that even if fell sick, he's healthy and would recover. That's not the case for everyone, which makes it even more important to take precautions. "My message would be to take this to heart," he says. "You see what's happening elsewhere and now starting to happen here. It's going to happen and there will be cases in Santa Fe. I'm healthy and have a strong immune system, but there are other people I come into contact with every day who weren't in that category. That's the thing people really need to be concerned about…thinking beyond yourself."
Just like with many other illnesses, the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands regularly, to cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue and, when possible, avoid contact with people who are coughing or sneezing.