Traveling in the age of covid (part two)

Time to get this vacation thing on! But boy, it’s sure a hassle. We’re on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale today and getting on the ship is like running a marathon. It’s also become more expensive. It’s hard to quantify the additional expense as certain things, like WiFi, are now part of the fare. In addition, in the age of covid-19, it’s stupid to not add travel insurance so there’s that, for both the cruise and our flights.

Shore excursion prices look higher too, but there seems little point in booking shore excursions when the itinerary can change. It changed about a week ago, so we’re just going to wait until we get onboard the ship and listen to the lectures before booking shore excursions … and hope they aren’t sold out.

But perhaps the most annoying thing of all is meeting the covid-19 testing requirements. You have to present a negative PCR or Antigen test and it can’t be more than 48 hours old, plus the test must be observed. This meant we had to get a test on Monday and we had to hope we’d get test results back before our cruise departed. CVS Pharmacy says it takes 24-48 hours for test results, but there is no guarantee. My wife got her results back in under a day. We were tested at the same time, so why didn’t I get mine? Was there a snafu?

Before scarfing down a dinner at a Bradley International brew pub last night, I called CVS. I eventually learned that my results simply weren’t available yet. I thought maybe they got lost. They arrived sometime in the middle of the night while we slept peacefully at a Hyatt hotel here. Of course, we both tested negative.

So we’ll be on board our ship. Our hotel was strategically chosen because they offer free shuttles to and from the airport and the cruise port, plus a complementary breakfast. Cruising is still struggling to come back here. It was made harder by Governor Ron DeSantis trying to impose on cruise lines a requirement that they take unvaccinated passengers. It was a pointless exercise designed to prove his street creds among Republicans, because it’s the federal government sets these requirements. Plus cruise lines don’t have to dock in Florida, and having cruises overwhelmed with covid-19 cases taints their brands. Using Florida is just more convenient for them. Until recently, if you wanted a Caribbean cruise you flew to some place like the Bahamas, assuming they would let you in.

The flight to Fort Lauderdale last night was interesting. It was my first time on a plane since the pandemic. It’s always a bit chancy to take an evening flight the day before a cruise, and as we approach winter, snow delays were a possibility. But weirdly all flights out of Bradley International were on time and the flight was extra smooth. Everyone wore masks, but on both the plane and in the terminal I noticed dissenters who think that wearing a mask but not putting it over your nose counts. It doesn’t. I wish police would arrest these scofflaws. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them.

While wearing masks on a flight is a new thing, I was glad for it. In addition to reducing the likelihood of acquiring or passing on covid-19, they reduce the likelihood of acquiring all sorts of sicknesses. The lady next to me was suffering from some sort of cold. Wearing her mask might keep me from getting whatever she got. So I’m hoping that one result of this is that when the pandemic is over that the masking requirements in airplanes and terminals remains. It’s a sensible precaution and really no bother at all.

More masking is happening in Florida than I expected. People wore masks in the terminal, and outside of it. Here in our hotel people are mostly masked. This could be because Fort Lauderdale is a relatively blue part of Florida. Or it could be that the Delta variant, which knocked Florida for a loop, knocked some sense into a lot of the people here. Curiously Florida now has one of the lowest covid-19 infection rates in the country. This is likely because Delta tore through the state. One effect of all those deaths and hospitalizations is to make the virus harder to transmit.

But we’re ready. With a fresh booster shot coursing through our veins and masks up the wazoo, we’re ready to cruise. Some masking will be needed on the ship, but it will be minimally invasive. The West Indies awaits.

I am deeply grateful to those who solved our covid-19 pandemic

We went out for dinner the other day. This is not exactly a first since the pandemic, but the difference this time was that we dined indoors. All three of us (this includes my daughter, who paid a quick visit) were fully immunized, all with the Moderna vaccine.

With the mask mandate guidance lifted, even in interior spaces for us fully vaccinated, while it seemed safe to dine in, it still gave us a bit of concern. Not wearing a mask may send the wrong signal: that it’s okay to not wear a mask if you are not fully immunized too. So while we ate indoors, and we kept our mask on, except when we were eating. So did the other patrons, what there were of them. There were strict quotas on the number of inside diners.

It wasn’t quite the same experience. This Chinese restaurant was still operating partly in pandemic mode. There was a table near the entrance with brown stapled bags of takeout, which now forms the bulk of their business. China seemed to be out: we got paper plates and cups, though the disposable chopsticks were there as always at our table. The food was just as good as we remembered but the visual experience felt cheapened somehow.

In our state, most mask mandates don’t come off until next weekend. As a practical matter, most are off already. Those running the park across the street decided that masks were no longer necessary. The prohibition always struck me as overkill, particularly when it was figured out that covid-19 was acquired almost always through breathing it in, so it required closed spaces. For someone fully vaccinated like me, masking is becoming something more to fit in and signal the right social values. Outdoors, I noticed that kids are masking but most everyone else isn’t. In public indoor spaces, masking still remains the rule, even when not technically required, such as during my Friday trip to a Trader Joe’s.

It’s largely unappreciated just how quick and effective the vaccine response has been. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began development literally within days after China released the virus’s genome. Their success was arguably greased by tons of government money, which also encouraged Pfizer and Moderna to develop vaccines based on messenger RNA technology. There were some shortcuts that may have compromised safety: limited and parallel trials, for example, as well as emergency use authorizations. A certain amount of suspicion about their efficacy was warranted, even if they proved baseless.

This contrasted with the often dismal efforts to prevent the transmission of the disease here within the United States, leading to at least 600,000 deaths from the disease so far. I’ve drawn the conclusion that there was a far more rampant “disease” running rampant at the same time: the arguably viral obstinacy by so many Americans that: it was a fake disease, that various quack treatments would work if you did get it, that I’m too special to get it, and that it’s all part of some grand conspiracy to bring about left-wing government. There are still legions of these people out there. 600,000 deaths have taught them nothing. Whereas people like me (who believe in science) persisted by simply following recommendations and best practices, which evolved over time.

That these recommendations evolved seems to infuriate a lot of those who refused the vaccine. It seems they cannot inhabit a world where there is ambiguity: if any guidance changes over time, it must have been inherently wrong in the first place! The reason covid-19 was so easily transmissible and deadly was because it was novel: it hadn’t been seen before. We weren’t going to know what works best until we had experienced it and tried stuff, hence the high mortality rate toward the start of the pandemic.

There was concern that you could pick it up if you touched surfaces that had the virus. So I hyper-cleaned surfaces too, until the science came in that it was virtually impossible to pick it up this way, at which point I relaxed. Surviving covid-19 became pretty simple: live an isolated life if you could, work remotely if you could, and use effective masking if you couldn’t and were in public spaces. It wasn’t fun, but it could have been much worse and much more hassle. Effective vaccines took less than a year to develop. Now the challenge is to get them into the arms of people mostly in third-world countries that can’t afford to pay for them. It’s incumbent on rich countries like ours to do our utmost to help out.

It’s also remarkable that these vaccines are both so highly effective and seem to also work against the many covid-19 variants out there. There is virtually no evidence so far that once vaccinated you can pass on the disease as a passive carrier. So I shouldn’t feel guilty walking around unmasked because I am properly immunized. At worst there is a tiny five to 10% chance that I could still acquire the disease, but its symptoms would be mild. If I get it, I shouldn’t require hospitalization and it won’t kill me. Maybe that itself if a reason to mask up, but since I’m not immuno-compromised, it’s not a compelling reason to do so.

So I’m very grateful to those who created such effective vaccines in so short a time, and even for our somewhat dysfunctional government which at least could throw gobs of money at the problem, all while making the actual pandemic here exponentially worse. The vaccine makers though were but the tip of the spear. Hundreds of thousands of epidemiologists largely gave up their other work, or worked unpaid overtime, to advance research, help mitigate its spread and develop best practices. Our health care workers dealt with enormous stress and excessive amounts of jackasses to do their best in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic. All these people, and many more, have my gratitude, and should get accolades from our government for their tenacity, curiosity and intelligence they exercised to solve this public health crisis.

Needless to say, I am breathing easier.