When news started to emerge in December of a previously unseen type of pneumonia that was affecting people in China, I sat up and took notice. As a Risk and Emergency Management Consultant, a big part of my job is to look ahead and see what is coming down the pipeline. If I can give my clients advanced notice of something that might become a problem, then I’ve done my job.
China has long been identified as one of the most likely sources of a new or emerging virus that could sweep across the world. That being said, my money was on a bird flu, not another coronavirus.
I’d lived in Toronto during SARS in 2003 and had seen what could happen with a new virus. At the time, I was working at Canada’s Wonderland — an amusement park north of Toronto in the city of Vaughan. I had seen what happens to tourism during a major outbreak, it doesn’t just drop — it plummets straight off a cliff.
So, when the people diagnosed with this new pneumonia were cleared of SARS and Influenza, I figured that we were in for a bit of a rough ride.
Oh…and that it would really start to ramp up in 6–8 weeks, just about the time I was scheduled to board a cruise ship for a week with my family.
It has been almost exactly 20 years since my family and I took a trip together. Our last trip was to the Orlando area in March of 2000, where we shared a rental house with two other families and woke up to the smell of orange blossoms.
When my grandfather died a couple years ago, we decided to use our inheritances from him to take a family vacation. My parents had been cruising before, but for the rest of us it was a brand new experience.
Of course, we all had our own ideas about what to bring…one of my sisters joked about bringing Tamiflu from the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
At least I hope she was joking.
Either way, we were far more worried about norovirus than we were about COVID-19. Our cruise line had implemented some strict measures, barring passengers and staff who had travelled to, or through areas most deeply affected by this virus.
Thankfully, the precautions for norovirus are very similar to the precautions for seasonal influenza, which in turn are exactly the same as the precautions for COVID-19. They all boil down to this:
WASH YOUR HANDS!
There were so many hand washing stations on the ship that you couldn’t go more than a dozen steps without finding another one. They were at all the elevator lobbies, the entrance to every store and restaurant, even along the exterior walkways around the ship.
At the two entrances to the main buffet-style restaurants, they had the following hand-washing facilities available to you:
- Four automatic hand sanitizer dispensers;
- Three to six sinks with soap and water; and
- At the full-menu buffet (as opposed to the light-snack one) they had no less than two people at each entrance who greeted us all with spray bottles filled with hand sanitizer and the refrain “Washy, Washy. Happy, Happy!”
In fact, the hand washing was so ubiquitous that the cast of one of the shows threw in a joke about it.
There were some general precautions taken. You had to complete a public health screening before boarding the ship on embarkment day, and if you checked off any of the COVID-19 symptoms then the ship’s medical staff had to clear you to travel.
As I mentioned above, some passengers and staff were denied access to the ship because of their travel history. Otherwise, it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on the cruise or our shore excursions.
The shows all ran as scheduled.
None of the events were cancelled.
There was no additional screening in ports.
Ironically, one of the ships that left from the Port of Miami ahead of us ended up being quarantined off the coast of Mexico. Nobody even batted an eye when we got off of our ship.
While there were some minor medical emergencies, nobody seemed to be seriously ill with anything.
There were no masks anywhere to be seen. Not on the screening officers at the port, not on the crew or passengers of the ship, nowhere in any ports.
Airports were a bit of a different matter, there were dozens or hundreds of people wearing masks.
Somebody needs to tell our airline that delaying a flight for “additional cleaning” and then having the onboard staff wearing masks doesn’t really promote a sense of confidence in their cleaning processes.
As a society, we can make a choice about how we are going to deal with COVID-19. We can choose to hide from it: cancel events, cancel travel, and stay home.
In some cases, especially if you may have been exposed, this is the smart and wise decision.
We can’t let this virus define us. It isn’t something to completely disregard, but it also isn’t a civilization-ending event. Eventually, this is going to be another communicable disease that occurs naturally in humans.
More people are going to be infected by it, so it is wise to take some precautions and wash your hands.
Some people who are infected are going to die. That is the nature of this disease, and while I am saddened by their deaths, I’m also deeply aware that this is a part of human existence.
We all die.
We may develop a treatment or vaccine for it, in which case it will join Measles, Mumps, Polio, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
At the end of the day, it is a little worse than seasonal influenza, and not nearly as bad as SARS or MERS — two other coronaviruses that have emerged in recent years.
Would we do it again?
Would I travel with my aging parents and my 6 year-old and potentially expose them to this deadly virus?
Think about all the other things we were exposed to. We visited three new countries and had a chance to explore cultures that are completely different than our middle-class Canadian lives.
We got to swim in the warm salt water of the Caribbean Sea. We explored for sea shells, played in the waves, and even got an unplanned visit from a family of sea turtles who would poke their heads up every so often to keep an eye on us.
We got to experience different foods, meet people from different places, I even made a connection that might lead to a contract!
My 6 year-old got the opportunity to meet people from around the world, and to play with kids whose experiences are totally different from hers. She also got the chance to make the kind of intense friendships that only happen when you’re together for a short time.
These are some of the many reasons that I would do it again, and why you should to.
So listen to the experts.
Stay away from areas where there is a major outbreak.
Don’t wear a mask unless you are actually sick, it’s not likely going to help you anyways.
Washy, Washy! Happy, Happy!