Same Old Shit Again

Back in 1978 when I went through Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri we sang cadences as we marched. They were used to keep everyone marching at the same pace, and hopefully in step. The Drill Sergeant rhythmically sang out one line of the cadence, and the company of recruits would then echo it. The most memorable cadence for me was one that started with, “Here we go again.” The recruits would echo that, and the Drill Sergeant would follow with, “Same old shit again.”

That’s the phrase that came to mind as I caught up on travel trade journals Monday afternoon after spending a weekend with my grandkids. Not because of the grandkids…heavens no, they were delightful. It was because I learned that last week the CDC issued a formal warning against traveling on cruise ships worldwide, citing the risk of contracting COVID-19. They just lost the fight last month to extend their no sail order through mid-February. Rather than accepting that bureaucratic defeat gracefully, they decided to shift gears and pursue another tactic in what I perceive to be their ongoing war against the cruise industry. What did they do? They issued a Level 3 Warning advising people not to cruise worldwide. They can no longer attack the cruise lines with their no sail order, so instead they are targeting the cruisers. The next thing you know they’ll be trying to cancel Halloween. Oh wait…they’ve already done that.

Same old shit again.

So, what do the latest CDC shenanigans mean? Well…nothing. It’s like putting the cruise lines on double secret probation. Before the warning was issued, cruise lines were planning to resume sailing in December. Since the warning was issued the cruise lines now plan to resume sailing in … December. Planning isn’t doing so we’ll see what happens come December. Still, unlike their no sail order, the CDC’s travel warnings are strictly advisory. Other than offering click bait headlines for some online news services, their warning against cruising amounts to nothing more than a bureaucratic temper tantrum.

The CDC’s travel advisory program is a four-tiered system with the lowest level being very low risk…no worries have fun. The highest level, Level 3, represents the highest risk…basically the worst possible outcome, stay away if you know what’s good for you. I don’t know how long the advisory system has been around…could be they just came up with it because of COVID-19. I do know that between August and October the CDC issued over 200 Level 3 warnings telling people in this country not to travel to other countries because of COVID-19. In a nutshell what they are saying is don’t travel anywhere because the risk of contracting COVID-19 is high. Except Guernsey. They assess the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Guernsey to be low as long as you hang out with the cows rather than the people, so you can go there. And New Caledonia…you can go there too. Just don’t take a cruise ship.

Get real. Border closures imposed by other countries stop us from traveling, not a CDC advisory or warning that lacks teeth. There are 216 countries or territories for which the CDC has issued a Level 3 Warning since August, each being individually designated as posing a high risk for contracting COVID-19. There is only one non-geographic entity singled out for a COVID-19 warning or advisory of any kind…surprise, it is a warning against cruises. The CDC has not published any travel advisory outlining the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 when you fly, take a train, a bus, rent a car, stay in a hotel or for that matter targeting any other segment in the travel and tourism industry…just cruising.

For their part, cruise lines have adopted 74 discrete recommendations developed by an independent panel of experts in infectious disease and the cruise industry to mitigate and manage the risk of someone contracting COVID-19 on a cruise ship. Those recommendations include things like mandatory mask wearing and social distancing. If you’ve been on a cruise ship you know it can be a bit like the wild west, particularly in the bars with drinks flowing freely, so the cruise lines took it further. They require a negative COVID-19 test within 5 days of cruising before they allow anyone, passenger or crew, to board. Even with that they still require enhanced medical screening at the port for every passenger, and enhanced sanitization protocols to be followed throughout each cruise. Cruise ships will also only be sailing at 50-60% capacity to allow for appropriate social distancing. Any passenger not following the rules will be unceremoniously left at the next port to find their own ride home.

False negative COVID-19 tests are rare but they do happen. Anyone who is suspected of having COVID-19 after a ship sails will be quarantined in a separate part of the ship, away from other passengers, and the crew will implement strict isolation and sanitization protocols to ensure one case doesn’t become an outbreak. These protocols have already been put into practice since summer when on a couple of occasions crew members with a false negative COVID-19 test were allowed to board ships. Once aboard and identified as possibly having COVID-19, quarantine, isolation and enhanced sanitization protocols were followed and were effective at keeping the virus from infecting anyone else on the ship.

Although the CDC hasn’t issued any sort of advisory against air travel, they have let it be known that they view commercial air travel as low risk. Mainly because of the HEPA filters airplanes use these days. I agree, and I’ve flown twice since March. Personally, I think both commercial air and cruise travel present the same risk and for me, that risk is low. One of the 74 recommendations cruise lines have adopted in anticipation of being allowed to sail again is to have HEPA filters, sized appropriately for the number of people and air volume and flow rate required, installed on their ships. I won’t hesitate to travel on a cruise ship or an airplane, and in fact I already have two trips booked for 2021. Both trips will involve flying, and one is a cruise. Shhh, don’t rat me out to the CDC! But that’s me. Your situation will be different and is best determined by you after consulting with your doctor regarding your risk tolerance and your individual circumstances. By all means, read the CDC’s Level 3 warning. But use common sense as well, talk to your doctor, and do what’s right for you.

Sigh…Same old shit again.

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