Traveling in COVID-19 Times

One of the things Janet and I do as travel agents is take some measured risks so our clients don’t have to. We go to destinations that are decidedly not on our bucket list but are on our clients’. Life is not risk free, but we try very hard to limit the risk that your vacation experience will be less than you expect. So last week we took advantage of an opportunity to travel to Cancun for a destination wedding conference. This picture is not from a US airport…it is from Cancun. THAT is how seriously they are taking the COVID-19 virus. Making this trip was not a decision we took lightly, and in fact Janet stressed about the risks the entire trip. Me not so much, but she keeps me honest. And safe. It is one of many things I love about her. Can I just say we learned SO much. This post will be about the COVID-19 risks and protective measures, both upon our departure from the US, our arrival in Mexico, and then our return back to the US. And as my son so gently reminded me, if you choose to travel in this time you carry an additional responsibility upon your return to ensure you are behaving responsibly, observing a 14 day self-quarantine (which we are currently doing), and get tested which we will be doing Monday. In fact our son, who by the way works for a major company in the Baltimore Washington area that manages and operates assisted living/rehab facilities that care for the highest at risk demographic for this virus, and his wife who is a nurse at Hopkins Bayview, tell us we need to get tested twice, several days apart because of the high number of false negative test results. I did not know that.

Right so on to the C-19 stuff. We flew out of Baltimore, BWI airport, and it was pretty much no different than my weekly trips to Wegmans. Masks required, hand sanitizer optional and stupid Americans doing stupid American things. When we landed in Cancun it was like the transition scene in The Wizard of Oz when they go from the black and white of Kansas to the color of Munchkin Land. OK maybe that is a bit over the top. Still…In BWI people wore masks and you can tell they did so in many cases in protest. Masks were pulled down under the nose, which totally defeats the purpose, right? No use of sanitizer, no true sense of social distancing. Cancun was so totally different. In the words of Dorothy Gale as soon as we landed, “Toto I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.” That was my experience. I don’t know if it is consistent for all travelers but I have to say I was impressed.

All, and I mean ALL airport employees in Cancun wore proper masks and wore them correctly. Many had full plastic face shields, some used latex gloves, and as you can tell from the photo some even wore full hazmat suits. Total PPE. One of the first checkpoints you pass is a passive temperature screening station. It is so unobtrusive if you aren’t looking for it you will miss it, but I knew to expect it. The screening doesn’t slow you down…it is staffed with an attentive employee checking everyone. There was no such station at BWI. We need to learn a few things here.

We’ve posted pictures of people not wearing masks but let me tell you these were photo ops…the masks came off for the 10 seconds it took to snap the picture and went right back on. The other times masks aren’t worn is meal time, and in your room. Quite a few guests did not wear masks in the public areas of the resort, but with social distancing (I’ll note the occupancy rate in a bit) it wasn’t really necessary. The only time people were physically close without wearing masks was in the pools. I know chlorine is a strong anti-viral and these pools had plenty of chlorine, but I don’t know if that is adequate.

Hand sanitizer is a huge deal. They are polite, but insistent…you must use it and use it often. They are big on touchpoints and anytime you encounter a new touchpoint, hand sanitizer is mandatory. The hand sanitizer they use at the airport and pretty much throughout the tourist areas of Cancun is ethanol based, not the methanol product that people have been warned to avoid. It also smells really good and must have a ton of aloe because my hands have never been softer.

We met our transfer driver and once again, yet another spritz of hand sanitizer. On top of that, they sprayed our luggage with sanitizer before loading (it was sprayed when offloaded from the plane but this is another touchpoint). The drivers sprayed sanitizer on the vehicle doors and seats. It was very subtle…you have to be looking for it because they are trying hard not to freak us out with their protective measures. I appreciate that they did it, and that they did it unobtrusively. One thing to note. At BWI we parked at The Parking Spot which is our favorite airport parking venue. They too sprayed our luggage, the seats before we sat down, and gave us hand sanitizer. We brought plenty of our own sanitizer and wipes…just in case. I don’t know that all transfer companies here or at your destination are as conscientious as we encountered so you need to be prepared to take care of yourself, and TSA has relaxed their restriction on liquids specific to hand sanitizer.

Our transfer was about a 40-minute drive. Interestingly, our driver used one mask when he met us, and then changed to what appeared to be a more heavily filtered mask while we were in the vehicle with him. Masks are optional for the tourists in most places but we chose to wear ours throughout, if for no other reason than out of respect. As did just about everyone else we encountered.

When we got to the resort, more hand sanitizer, our luggage got sanitized yet again, and another temperature check. If you saw Janet’s post about the temperature checks and feeling like someone is holding a gun to her head….these are not that. They use forearm scanners. We cleared all temp checks but if you don’t, you go to secondary for a more thorough health screening. If you don’t pass you will be transported to a quarantine facility prior to your return to the US. Vacation over. We also experienced something I have yet to see in the US….we had to dip our shoes into a sanitizing liquid and then wipe them off. This happened at each resort we visited. Masks continued to be worn throughout our visit with most resort employees also wearing face shields. One guest who is a frequent return and knows several of the staff noted that they really don’t like the idea of masks, don’t believe that they do anything, but they put up with them because the government requires it, they have regular compliance inspections, and they have respect for us tourists.

Once at the resort after we passed through all of the screening measures masks were pretty much optional for the guests. Some interesting modifications to the usual all-inclusive property amenities to note. Room service was available and encouraged, but the staff is not allowed to enter your room…you take the tray. Again, limit those touchpoints. Room cleaning was offered daily but we requested it be deferred except for once mid-way into our visit. We are low maintenance. The one exception was a daily refresh of the mini-bar/refrigerator which consisted of water, snacks, sodas and beer. No hard liquor!

The resort was limited to 30% capacity which included guests and staff to support social distancing. That means much of the regular landscaping and other cosmetic maintenance was not being done. It didn’t bother us though we did note some of the bushes were getting a bit bushy. The staff cleaned all of the lounge chairs in and by the pool several times per day with bleach, and towels were single use. The restaurant menus and schedule of activities are all QR code scannable. If you are technology impaired they will give you a one time use paper copy that gets tossed as soon as you leave.

Anytime we left the property and returned, which we did several times to inspect other properties, we went through the same ritual of hand sanitizer, shoe sanitizer, and temperature check.

Our experience on the return flight was similar to the flight out. We flew Southwest and they are limiting capacity to ensure middle seats are open. No in-flight service items except a single bag of pretzels and a cup of water. Restroom service available but limited and no lines. If you have a weak bladder you probably don’t want to be making this trip. And if you have a stack of those free Southwest free drink coupons leave them at home…no alcohol on this flight except in the hand sanitizer, which was everywhere. Janet and I got separated at the airport in Cancun at one point because I was busy taking pictures and watching for how the airport staff was handling things. Way more use of PPE in Cancun than at BWI. We could learn a thing or two from them.

One very important point. Yes, you can travel. There is risk but life is all about risk and managing it. For some people, there are only so many days left in the calendar of their lives and they can’t abide spending them sitting in the recliner watching boring re-runs or binge watching whatever the current popular series is. Janet and I are at that point in our lives so we choose to travel. But as my son points out…we need to be sure we are responsible citizens and do the right thing when we return. This virus is nasty, and I may get it and not even know it but if I am not behaving responsibly I could pass it along to someone who may suffer the worst version of acute respiratory distress, blood clots, or any of the many other complications associated with it to include a horrid death by drowning in your own body fluids. So yes, if you are inclined to travel do so and we will help you with the planning. Janet and I will continue to travel and are planning a trip for September. But we will be self-quarantining between trips and getting tested so we can safely visit both of our sons their wives, our grandkids, and our grandpuppies. The message I want to leave you with is travel but be responsible upon your return. Self quarantine and get tested. ‘Nuff said.!

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