ATLANTA - Nearly 65,000 U.S. citizens are now repatriated after coronavirus travel restrictions sent Americans abroad into a mad scramble to find a flight home, but many are still waiting.
Since March 21, the State Department has fielded some 50,000 calls from stranded Americans.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's office is working "seven days a week" to help lighten the State Department's load, aiding in the return of Georgians from at least eight countries, according to an exclusive interview with FOX 5's Emilie Ikeda.
While stuck in Gambia, Leroy Frazier said in a statement that he heard from Loeffler's office within two hours of reaching out.
Frazier said he "ran out of some urgent medications around March 24, 2020 and needed refills." Within two days of contacting Loeffler's office, he was able to "[meet] with the doctor and [receive] a one-month complimentary supply [of] medications."
"You're concerned about your family's health and safety, you're concerned about yours, your study abroad ended abruptly, you don't know what's happening -- that's a terrible feeling of uncertainty, and first of all, we want people to know that they're going to be safe," said Loeffler.
But Americans still quarantined internationally fear they've fallen off the U.S. government's radar, as many repatriation flights shift from the State Department's control to commercial airlines.
Lee McGhee's trip to Peru has forcibly been extended by a month...and counting.
McGhee told FOX 5, initially, he patiently waited to be chosen for a government-operated repatriation flight, but added, "Now, five weeks into it, you don't feel too confident about it."
In the weeks of waiting for a government-operated flight home, which allows travelers to pay the ticket fee in a series of payments, McGhee contracted a bacterial infection that landed him in the hospital and carried a price tag of several thousand dollars, since his insurance wasn't accepted there.
"I've done everything my country has asked me to do, plus the quarantine we're experiencing here, and then all I get is a lot of false hope emails and overpriced flights as my options," McGhee said.
McGhee, notably, never reached out to Sen. Loeffler's office but said he was in contact with a representative from U.S. Congressman Tom Graves' office. McGhee applauded the employee's responsiveness but said they did not have the reach to insight the action he was hoping for -- an affordable, timely flight.
The final repatriation effort out of Peru lifts off Tuesday, and it only comes at a steep price. The commercial flight to Miami costs more than double the average round-trip ticket, and that doesn't even count the cost to then go back to Georgia.
"I don't have $2000 of money floating around because I just dropped $2500 for a hospital visit that I didn't have," McGhee said.
There is a bipartisan bill before Congress proposing the government cover the costs for repatriation flights. Sen. Loeffler didn't offer a firm stance on the bill but says it's something that certainly should be considered.
In the meantime, she said the best thing stranded Americans can do is vocalize their frustrations and concerns. You can reach out at loeffler.senate.gov.
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