Follow the Bouncing Virus

I had this great blog article written about COVID-19 and travel that I was all set to post tonight. I put a solid week of research into it and man was it going to be a doozy. Then today’s news started piling up so I decided I had to drop it so I could cover everything that happened today. One of the highlights of my discarded article was a set of research that backed up the idea that the mortality rate for COVID-19 will be somewhere between Dr. Fauci’s 1% and the seasonal flu’s 0.1% and I found that reassuring. Back in 2009 when the H1N1 flu raised its ugly head we had none of this 24/7 news media driven drama. And that bug was much worse than COVID-19 both in terms of number of infections and mortality rate when it first showed up. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Lots of doomsday scenarios out there which I think (or maybe just hope) are an over-reaction using bad statistical data and/or techniques.

The events of today show the U.S. is clearly still in containment mode toward COVID-19, and will be at least until sometime next year by which time we can hopefully develop, test, mass produce, and widely deploy a vaccine. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t…I am pessimistic. There are already organic (non-travel related) cases popping up which suggests containment at least in some areas has failed. With that said, let’s dissect the major COVID-19 events of the day in reverse order of importance.

First, to me the least most important event of the day was the announcement from the NBA that they were cancelling their season, at least for now. I don’t watch it, I don’t care. Even if it extends to the NCAA which it is likely to, I don’t watch it….I don’t care. It’s entertainment and yes, I understand the need for entertainment at times like this, but there are other forms. I do appreciate there will be an economic impact, but the college players don’t get paid (well…technically) and the NBA owners are so ridiculously rich they can afford to keep paying the players and staff not to play. The people that will be hurt most will be the ticket takers, ushers, vendors, and cleaners…people associated with the venue and not the team. In my view the owners owe them the same consideration they give the players.

The second least important event but a shocker none-the-less, was Tom Hanks announcing that he and wife Rita Wilson had come down with COVID-19 while on a movie shoot in Australia. Their infections were confirmed with testing. So much for the COVID-19 virus not surviving during warm weather since this is the end of Australia’s summer. I never thought much of that theory anyway. After all, the virus thrives in the lungs of the human body which is 98.6 degrees and humid. Just like summertime in Maryland. The reason the incidence of seasonal illnesses go down in the late spring and summer is because instead of spending time in close quarters indoors, the perfect breeding ground for these bugs to include COVID-19, people start spending more time outdoors where there is more space to move about and you are far less likely to get sneezed or coughed on. And I do think the incidence of infection will go down towards the end of spring as more people spend time outside. I am truly sorry Tom and Rita are ill…they are both great people and great actors. From the notes Hanks sent out, it didn’t sound like they were in too much discomfort and his description of what they were going through fits with pretty much what every doctor who has studied this virus has said. Unless you are elderly or immune compromised, if you have any symptoms at all you feel tired and a bit like you have the flu for some period of time. And then you get better. Hopefully they will recover fully and quickly without any complications.

One of the more important events of the day actually occurred yesterday and I just read about it this morning. That would be Governor Cuomo’s announcement of a 1-mile “containment zone” around a COVID-19 hotspot in New Rochelle, and his calling out the National Guard. Good thought, bad labeling. There is no containment zone in new Rochelle. There is no quarantine and there is no travel ban. The governor has merely asked schools and temples to close for the next two weeks. Grocery stores will remain open, and people are free to come and go, in/out/through as they wish. The purpose of the National Guard? To deliver groceries to the elderly and clean public areas. I love it. It is humanitarian. It is admirable. It is brilliant. But don’t call it containment because that it is not.

Now the biggie. The President announced earlier this evening that he was closing our borders to foreign nationals and cargo from Europe. Now that was a shocker…didn’t see that one coming! He justified it by claiming, “The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots (as we did)…As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.” That is absolutely a true statement about some EU members, but almost as soon as the President was off the air the walk backs and clarifications started.

The DHS walked back the statement about the EU travel ban by limiting it to just the Shengen states, EU member nations who observe open borders. The Shengen states and therefore those countries impacted by the travel ban are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. That is a travel ban I can support because when you look at the infection statistics for France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, The President is right. The fact that the Shengen rules allow for open borders means any Shengen state, or several, can become the next Italy. I’m sure the EU isn’t going to like it and may well reciprocate, but frankly our phones aren’t ringing off the hook with people wanting to book trips to Europe right now. They watch the news too.

The next walk back was the cargo prohibition. Someone on his staff must have realized the cargo prohibition sounded like an outright trade ban and advised the President to walk that one back as well, which he did by tweet saying most trade would continue, the ban would only cover some limited things (not further specified). The travel ban does not apply to the UK even though they have 383 cases of COVID-19, probably because they are not a member of the Shengen states and therefore theoretically can easily impose tighter controls over their own borders.

And the final clarification that DHS issued was foreign immediate family members of a U.S. citizen would also be allowed to enter the U.S. Any U.S. citizen or foreign immediate family member wanting to return to the states will be allowed to do so, but good luck getting back. With nobody from the Shengen states allowed in the US, the airlines aren’t going to fly those routes with empty airplanes. I predict an agreement between the government and the airlines for repatriation flights that will land in cargo terminals or military terminals, away from the general public, and the passengers will be shuttled to a military installation for testing and probably a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

I wonder what the reaction from the Shengen states will be tomorrow? I also wonder what the threshold will be for lifting the ban in 30 days since that wasn’t specified in the President’s speech or the DHS press release. I mean, how much can EU member nations do in 30 days? Look at how long it took for Brexit. This is going to either be an empty gesture or a very interesting diplomatic negotiation.

As you can imagine with all the trip cancellations we’ve been dealing with, our travel business is in the crapper right now. But don’t worry about us. As far as living expenses go, Janet and I have been blessed with generous pensions and a well-diversified investment portfolio that we don’t draw from and which is designed to insulate our money from the volatility of the market in the short and mid term. Plus we have a fridge and freezer full of food…enough to last several months.

As far as Tidewater Cruise and Travel, you can trust us to be there for you no matter how bad things get in the coming weeks. We keep enough working capital in the business account to survive for a year without new commissions so we will weather this storm. I suspect once the dust settles over the next month or so, you’ll be ready to start thinking about rescheduling those trips and vacations you had to cancel because of COVID-19. Heck you’re going to need the break from the stress! And we will be here for you. Depending on the world situation we might have to get creative with routings and destinations, but we’ll help you figure it out! Until then, hang in there. It will get better.

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