Travel certainly has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in certain respects, this has been for the better. While my heart goes out to the travel and restaurant industries, I don’t miss the long security lines at Newark Airport or the packed flights –- my flight was about 80% full but I was given a 24-hour warning from the airline in case I preferred a different flight. Kudos to United Airlines for cleaning all planes between flights (no more hurriedly swapping out passengers from one flight to the next within the same half hour and finding the trash from whoever had your spot an hour ago stuffed into your seat pocket.)
Social distancing was urged everywhere in Newark and in Denver. I appreciated the zrero-tolerance-but-still-friendly announcements about masks: you'll get a first warning, then a second warning, & if there is a third infraction, you will be reported to the Captain with the possibility of being denied a future flight. And while the sealed snack pack with pretzels, water and a cookie was a bit skimpy, it was announced well ahead of time that there would not be meals for purchase in-flight but that Newark airport had availability of touch-free shopping, should you wish to stock up beforehand. Additional advantages and time-savers were 1) the lack of waiting on the runway at Newark Airport and 2) we boarded back to front/deboarded front to back, 6 rows at a time. It’s amazing what kind of congestion among people, cars, and planes we were willing to find acceptable pre-pandemic, just for the sake of saving some money!
My hotel experience has changed as well. I booked Woolley’s for the first time because it was within walking distance to the show and I liked that it was both four star and independently owned. Room service, as it was, is now gone thanks to COVID, but everything you could want or need was available upon request. Towels, trash bags, extra coffee pods, soap, shampoo, etc... all were delivered to your door within minutes. Breakfast was “grab and go” and barely above McDonald’s standards: McMuffin-esque egg with sausage and drippy cheese, a piece of fruit and a coffee. That was a real downer for me since I’m a big breakfast person and one of my factors in hotel choices is a well-rounded, all-inclusive breakfast with fresh items and omelets made to order – something Woolley’s is actually known for, in normal times. Nothing that comes out of a carton for me! If they can cook dinner and offer room service for dinner as well as provide generously spaced out hotel restaurant service, what makes breakfast such a problem? But I let it go. Instead, upon discovery of only dried milk packets for my morning coffee (a total no no for me and a reason to avoid any Holiday Inn), I went to my Amazon app and ordered a Prime Delivery: a couple of hours later, my fridge was stocked with fresh turkey, cheese, bread, salad, almond milk, seltzer and a couple of treats for me. Delivery was to my door, contact-free.
The pool was closed, and thankfully this was announced on the website or I would have been pretty disappointed. But the gym was open, by appointment only, with frequent cleaning. Special key provided and gloves required. So all in all, a very good experience as far as safety from contagion. Even if I was a worrywart, I would have said I felt safe. But I’m more of a “calculated risk” person and so the better description from my point of view was that I estimated the risk of getting sick as very low, and therefore acceptable for travel, and I found my estimations to be better than expected. My restaurant experience was the same (25% occupancy for indoors in Colorado, and lots of space), otherwise I just walked everywhere except for one Uber to the other gem show. Mask compliance was as high as NYC in my anecdotal experience. And NYC has the highest compliance rate in the US.
At the gem show itself, the booths had double the amount of space between them, and everyone I know (and really everyone there period), was extremely conscientious including temperature checks at the entrance and crowd control. My Benitoite supplier did private appointments only and immediately upon entering asked what my comfort level was in terms of having some chips, or getting a coffee, space between us etc. Since I expect to travel to Germany in a few days and need to protect my mom and not risk any positive COVID test, I was grateful that I was asked. The only downside for the vendor in terms of my wearing the mask was that he’s hard of hearing, and since COVID he has realized his extreme reliance on reading lips in addition to listening. We agreed that with 6 feet of separation, I would lower my mask when I spoke and he would not so I was safe in terms of travel to Germany. We also kept the window open for ventilation.
Aside: This fall, my significant other has started teaching again at Tufts. He’s one of perhaps 15% of their professors who teach in-class, so he is in an empty building, teaches 20 students in a lecture hall, and gets tested weekly. Because many of his students are foreign but residing in the US, I ordered him some masks with a cut out window so they can see his lips. I saw on Etsy that those are marketed for those who are hard of hearing. I’m going to suggest those to my vendor. International students, by the way, were largely not readmitted to the US if they left before COVID. Maybe none of them were but I am not sure.
For a little appendix (blogs are only supposed to be one page long), here’s the travel experience of my friend Jochen who was in Tanzania last week to source minerals. Jochen is 75 and has diabetes as a result of spinal meningitis contracted about a decade ago. So he has to always calculate risk, COVID or no. He certainly can’t be stuck in a hospital somewhere in Africa where, sadly, there are few to no respirators.
But he also has the travel bug and he loves his rocks, so when Tanzania decided to be one of the very few countries open to any traveler, because as the president “explained”, there’s no COVID-19 in Tanzania, Jochen started to evaluate his risk. Obviously, Tanzania has just as many or as few COVID-19 cases as the rest of Africa, despite what anyone says. Granted, considering the shorter life expectancy of 60-65 in Tanzania with less obesity and less smoking as well, there’s also a chance of seeing fewer obvious cases. Testing doesn’t really exist there, so when all is said and done, it may sadly have to be measured by an increase in death rates as opposed to an increase in positive tests. 80% of COVID deaths are in people over 65 years old, so my very simple math says that Tanzania should see way fewer deaths than the US and perhaps not a marked increase of deaths over other current diseases, of which there are plenty there.
That said, a 75-year-old German with diabetes has no less, but perhaps even more risk of contracting COVID in Tanzania, so he has to think differently from (a) public announcements and (b) the average younger person’s point of view. And he did. Jochen decided that his trip should be no longer than the minimum incubation period so that he would not end up sick in Tanzania: 3 days. He took a young and healthy travel buddy with him, traveled business class for extra space, refused all room service in the hotel which was occupied by 4 people total (easy social distancing). He shopped for two days in a specially rented room in the newly established trade building – the only place where wholesale gem trading is now allowed. He brought a box of masks for anyone who came near him, and only his broker was allowed in the room – with mask. Moustache, the broker, laughed about it at first (no COVID, you know…) but as Jochen made clear, “no mask”, “no deal”, and therefore “no brokerage fee” was in the end very convincing, especially after months and months without any foreign buyers.
Jochen wore safety goggles (so no minute particles would get into his eyes and he wouldn’t be tempted to touch his eyes either,) he wore an N3 mask, and he sanitized frequently. He was rewarded with several hundred very nice specimens and a negative COVID test in Germany so he returned happy! But he’s quarantining for a few more days just in case... Tanzanian sellers were probably over the moon that someone came to buy, and Jochen now has new stuff for the Munich show in October. I guess one just has to want it badly enough so one will find a way! Perhaps not a general rule to follow, but I’m so glad it worked out for him.