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Family speaks out after student jailed for violating quarantine in Cayman Islands

Skylar Mack, 18, received a 4-month jail sentence for violating COVID-19 protocol in the Cayman Islands.
/ Source: TODAY

The family of an 18-year-old college student says she is "pretty hysterical right now" as they plead for her release after she was sentenced to four months in jail in the Cayman Islands for violating the territory's strict coronavirus protocol.

Skylar Mack, a pre-med student at Mercer University from Georgia, has been locked up since Dec. 15 along with her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, 24, a Cayman Islands resident. They were arrested and charged while on vacation for violation of the 14-day COVID-19 isolation period required of all travelers to the island.

"She cries, she wants to come home," Mack's grandmother, Jeanne Mack, told Stephanie Gosk on TODAY Monday.

"She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that, but she's pretty hysterical right now."

Skylar Mack, an 18-year-old college student from Georgia, has been sentenced to 4 months in jail in the Cayman Islands for violating coronavirus protocol. Skylar Mack/ Facebook

Mack and Ramgeet are the first to be sentenced under harsher penalties for breaking isolation in the small British territory in the Caribbean that has about 64,000 residents. The island has had 311 confirmed cases and two deaths since the pandemic began and has enforced strict penalties to keep those totals low.

Mack traveled to the Cayman Islands on Nov. 27 to visit Ramgeet, according to Jonathon Hughes, the attorney for both of them.

She tested negative before leaving and negative again when she arrived, but two days into her government-mandated 14-day isolation period, which is monitored by electronic device, she and Ramgeet attended a jet ski event together in which Ramgeet competed.

Mack left her electronic monitoring device at home during the outing.

"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."

Mack and Ramgeet were each initially sentenced to 40 hours of community service and a $2,600 fine after pleading guilty to violating the isolation period, but a prosecutor successfully argued that the punishment was too lenient.

The day before the couple went to the jet ski event, the government changed its penalties for violating isolation from up to a year in jail and/or a fine of $1,000 to a sentence of up to two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000, according to the Cayman Compass.

Judge Roger Chapple said during their sentencing on Dec. 15 that their decision to violate the protocol was as a result of "selfishness and arrogance," according to the Cayman Compass newspaper. Mack spent seven hours at the event and was not wearing a mask or social distancing, police told the newspaper.

Hughes will appear before the territory's court of appeal on Tuesday to argue for a lesser sentence.

"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," Hughes said on TODAY.

Mack's family is now pleading for help for her return, which has included her grandmother writing a letter to President Donald Trump. The college student was originally scheduled to board a flight home on Tuesday.

"We're not asking for her to get an exception," Jeanne Mack said. "We're asking for her not to be the exception."