Family of U.S. teen jailed for breaking COVID protocol in the Cayman Islands speaks out

Traveling during a pandemic is risky, no matter who you are or where you're going. It's also beset with rules and restrictions put in place every step of the way, from airports to airlines to governments of the places you're visiting. Depending on where you're going, breaking those rules can have serious consequences—beyond just potentially spreading a deadly virus.

Skylar Mack, 18, learned that lesson the hard way after she was arrested in the Cayman Islands for breaking the British territory's mandatory 14-day quarantine. The Mercer University pre-med student from Georgia flew to the Cayman Islands on November 27 on a visit with her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, who is from the territory. According to TODAY, Mack tested negative for COVID-19 before she left and again after arrival, but was still supposed to remain isolated for two weeks.

On day two of quarantine, Ramgeet competed in a jet ski competition and Mack went to watch him. According to local news, neither of them wore a mask or practiced social distancing at the event. Mack also left the electronic bracelet she was supposed to wear behind, after reportedly asking the public health department to loosen the tracker the day after her arrrival.


Both Ramgeet and Mack were arrested for breaking pandemic protocol.

The Cayman Islands are home to about 64,000 people and have seen 311 cases and two deaths from COVID-19. The territory has enacted strict rules for keeping their numbers low, including quarantining travelers. Punishments for breaking the rules were increased the day before the jet ski competition, according to Cayman Compass. Previously, a breach could result in a sentence of up to one-year imprisonment and/or a fine of $1,000. That was increased to up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Ramgeet and Mack both pled guilty to the breach, and were initially sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a $2,600 fine. But a prosecutor successfully argued that the sentence was not stringent enough to serve as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to break the rules. On appeal, Mack was sentenced to four months in prison. She and Ramgeet are the first people to be sentenced under the Caymans' harsher punishments.

Mack's lawyer, Jonathan Hughes, argues that the government is trying to make an example of Mack without taking into consideration her age and history of responsible behavior. Mack, an honors student, has never had any run-ins with the law.

"They're two young people who have never been in trouble before," Hughes said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "This is the first time they've had interaction with police, the courts, prison."

In an interview on TODAY, Huges said, "This particular sentence would have a particularly harsh effect on her, and the court ought to have considered the individual before it, not just the crime."

In a conversation with TODAY, Mack's grandmother indicated that it was out of character for her granddaughter to break the rules.

"It's not like her to make this kind of a mistake," Jeanne Mack said. "She knows she screwed up. She knows she should have to pay for it."

She also shared how Skylar is faring in prison, where she's been since December 15.

"She cries, she wants to come home," Jeanne Mack told TODAY. "She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that, but she's pretty hysterical right now."

People have reacted to the story in predictably divergent ways, with some saying that four months of prison for an 18-year-old who simply went to a jet ski competition is too harsh, and others saying that she's legally an adult and has the same responsibility to follow the laws of the nation she's in as any other adult. Some feel that young adults often make stupid choices and that Mack could learn from her mistake without such a harsh punishment, while others point out that a deadly pandemic is not a time for leniency for "youthful indiscretion." There's also no shortage of people with little sympathy for someone who has the privilege of being able to travel to a tropical island in a pandemic choosing to flout protocols in place to protect the entire population.

Meanwhile, Mack's lawyer and family are hoping for an overturn of the four-month imprisonment. Hughes is arguing in a court of appeals today for a lesser sentence, and the family is trying various avenues, including contacting President Trump.

Mack was originally scheduled to fly home today. While there are no binding quarantine rules for Americans returning from international travel, it's perhaps worth pointing out that the per capita death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. is 30 times higher than in the Cayman Islands.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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