In spite of my best efforts to protect myself, I contracted COVID during my most recent trip. Janet got it too. Actually, I got it from her, and she got it from one of the people on the river cruise we took. There were at least two people who in hindsight were symptomatic during the cruise, most likely becoming infected when they opted not to mask up on their flights over to Europe. Their airlines did not require masking whereas Lufthansa, whom Janet and I flew with, did. I know that about them because early on in the cruise we compared notes, as travel agents tend to do when it comes to our travel experiences.
In my last post about COVID I wrote that I didn’t think it was inevitable that Janet and I would get COVID, in spite of our travels. I was wrong. I misjudged some things when I posted that. I underestimated the ease with which the current strains of COVID evade protective measures by those who take them. More importantly, I overestimated the willingness of the other people we come into contact with while traveling to take the same reasonable precautions and protections that Janet and I observe. I also overestimated the degree to which the public health system cares about preventing the spread of COVID.
Our COVID cases were mild. I chalk that up to us being vaccinated and double boosted. It didn’t prevent us from getting COVID, but I do believe it prevented us from getting really sick. In fact everybody in our group was vaccinated, but we weren’t required to get tested before the trip. Even though it wasn’t required, Janet did a home test before we departed…it was negative. The people in our group whom I suspect infected us didn’t start showing symptoms until the third day of our cruise. They, like me and Janet, flew to Europe a few days before the cruise so I doubt if pre-departure testing would have done us any good anyway. Neither person asked to get tested once they started with the sniffles and sneezing, nor did anyone from the cruise line ask them to get tested. One attributed her symptoms to asthma, the other to allergies. Those seemed like reasonable explanations at the time, common problems for travel agents who frequently travel to another country across six time zones. In hindsight maybe not so reasonable. Collectively we’ve let our guard down, and I don’t think that’s going to change.
It seems that most of the world, the travel industry included, has put rigid adherence to pandemic prevention behind them. I didn’t have to test myself when I began experiencing cold symptoms on my flight home, I could have assumed I had a cold and gone about my usual routine, going out in public unmasked, uncaring, and infecting everyone I interacted with. As an aside, Janet and I always test after travel whether we have any symptoms or not. I didn’t have to see my family doctor after my at home test was positive, though I did…via telehealth. I didn’t have to get a PCR test to confirm my at home test…my doctor didn’t require it, but I did it anyway. I didn’t even have to report my positive test result to the state health department, but I did. I didn’t have to inform the host of our cruise that I tested positive for COVID after we got home, but I did. Actually Janet did, on behalf of both of us.
I did all those things because they were the right things to do, and the health care system met my efforts with a collective yawn. My doctor told me to take Tylenol if I had a fever, otherwise treat it like a cold. No order for a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis, no antiviral medications, no monoclonal antibody treatment, no follow-up PCR test after five days or even ten days to confirm I was no longer contagious…nothing. Treat it like a cold. The only thing preventing me from going out into public unmasked was a single text from the health department advising me to self-isolate for five days. I’m pretty sure some people, maybe many, don’t even do that much. I don’t know if that’s good or not so good, it’s just where we are.
For the most part, both the government and the travel industry have gone from treating COVID like a plague to treating it like the common cold almost overnight. It has only been within the past month that many travel related COVID testing requirements have been eliminated.
I know that COVID won’t be the mild annoyance for everyone that it has been for Janet and me. I will continue to get booster shots when they are available and recommended, I will continue to mask up when I fly or find myself in crowded indoor spaces, and I will continue to get tested when I think I’ve been exposed or have even mild symptoms and isolate as appropriate. That’s all I can do at a time when others won’t even do that much.
My biggest take away from my bout with COVID is that I’m ready to move on with my life. I’m in the over 60 crowd now with more of my life behind me than in front of me. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk group, but I am no longer willing to put a single day of whatever time I have left on this Earth on hold in an effort to avoid COVID. Maybe my mild encounter with the virus has emboldened me, but I don’t think so. I felt that way before we took our most recent trip, my bout with COVID just reinforces that feeling.
Whether or not it is right for you to travel still comes down to your personal risk tolerance. The main difference between today and the early days of the pandemic is that you can no longer count on others to keep you protected. For better or worse, most people traveling now aren’t taking even the simple precaution of wearing a mask, and that’s an important consideration if you fall into a higher risk group. COVID is still a greater threat than most people are willing to treat it as being. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before it truly is no worse than “just a cold,” and maybe for all practical purposes it already is.
This will probably be my last post dealing with COVID. As travel suppliers and governments around the world drop the few COVID restrictions that remain, there is little else I can offer on the subject. I’m living proof that no amount of personal protective measures will keep you from getting COVID.
As travel agents we will still encourage our clients to take the same precautions we continue to take for our own travel…get vaccinated, boosted, and mask up on planes, buses, and in crowded indoor spaces. Whether or not you choose do any of those things is increasingly a matter of personal choice. We will also continue to inform our clients of the few COVID restrictions and requirements that remain, based on your destination and mode of travel. That gets easier to do as time goes on and restrictions and requirements fall by the wayside. There aren’t many left, and those too will be going away soon enough. Is it too soon? I don’t know.
Janet and I have several more trips planned between now and the end of the year, and we still plan to take them. We are taking a month off from travel to make sure the next time we hit the road we aren’t the cause of someone else’s case of COVID, but we will travel. At some point down the road we’ll probably get COVID again. By then treating COVID like the common cold might be the right thing to do. That’s how most people seem to be treating it now anyway. And I’m not sure that’s wrong.