—then you had better read what the editor of Undercurrent says
All serious divers are eager to get back into the water, and thousands upon thousands are eager to board planes and head to the tropical dive vacations they’ve been dreaming about. Many Undercurrent subscribers have written us, citing a trip they are considering, and asking whether we think it is safe to go.
Of course, we have no answer. But we can say that one must measure the risk against the reward, as well as your emotional willingness to immerse yourself in the new world of travel and play by the rules to stay safe. Since traveling divers tend to be older, the risk is, shall we say, nothing to sneeze at, especially if one has pulmonary or coronary issues. But, the death risk appears not as severe as once thought, and we understand more about protecting ourselves. So divers are seduced by rock bottom prices and getting tempted.
Some countries are opening in the next few weeks, especially in the Caribbean, while others more slowly. As for many distant destinations, you might not be able to get there until Halloween, or as some call it, the Day of the Dead. But, the question you must ask yourself is how much do you really want to travel, and is the risk, the hassle and the worry worth it?
Unless the virus magically disappears or you develop immunity – antibody tests are not a perfect indicator — when you travel, you will put yourself at increased risk for an unpleasant disease. The overwhelming cause is exposure to an infected person, and those who carry and can infect others do not have symptoms for many days, so these invisible carriers can unwittingly infect you. While surface contact with the virus provides a lower risk than initially thought, it remains a risk. You will not have an enjoyable trip if you worry every minute about exposure, especially since everyone you encounter on the road won’t be closely following the rules. So you must think about what you will encounter and how you will respond before you travel.
Perhaps the most daunting aspect of traveling these days is getting there. Think about what it means to you. Will you want to wait in an airport for two hours to board your plane? What about using that airport bathroom? Will you want to fly enclosed with hundreds of strangers for hours upon hours (some airlines are using center seats) for which there is no certainty they aren’t silent carriers, regardless of any preboarding testing. Will you be changing planes in another airport, then fly again? What if you get seated near someone who eschews a mask (some airlines are unclear about how to handle such a passenger)? Will you worry about the fold-out tray, the food they hand you, the airline bathroom? Will you feel OK handling the luggage you had checked, and, perhaps, that little card inside saying TSA has gone through it?
If you’re connecting with a small airline in another country, are you sure the airline is solvent and will keep flying? You don’t want to land in Jakarta, only to learn that the carrier for your next flight has grounded its fleet. Or that fewer planes are operating, and your flight has been postponed for two days, so you spend two nights in an airport hotel. If you’re getting picked up for a two-hour shuttle to your destination, will you be comfortable with cleaning protocols and the strangers in the van? Will wearing masks be enforced?
Once you have thought about these travel issues and decided you can handle them, keep in mind the future of the coronavirus is entirely unknown. It’s resilient, and many believe it will have a second life, perhaps late summer or the fall, and anywhere in the world. If it does recur while you’re abroad, countries aren’t going to dilly dally and will close their borders. Visitors won’t be allowed in, planes may not be flying, and you may not be able to leave. Can you afford the time to stay there for two weeks? A small risk, I think, but one to keep in mind.
Aside from your burning desire to travel, your answers to these questions will depend upon your age, your health, the family you return to, your tolerance for risk, whether you tend to worry about such things, and how much of your information is based on science rather than political messaging or your own personal assumptions.
Now, if you’re at peace with the travel issues, let’s think about diving and your destination. Dive operators will surely be enthusiastic about getting your business, but they have taken a financial hit and have to survive until you get there. Given the potentially high rate of bankruptcies, some divers will make arrangements today with businesses that won’t be there tomorrow.
Some operators may be able to conduct complete testing of staff and guests, but don’t bet on it. Because most dive resorts are small and liveaboards are cramped, you’ll be in close quarters with strangers. (Oceans breezes and open windows will help mitigate the risk). So, before you depart, get a written statement about their anti-virus protocol – from testing to wipedowns to mask policy to social distancing — and once you arrive, make sure they deliver. And doggedly follow your own protocol, with masks, wipes, and handwashing.
Social distancing will be necessary everywhere for months, so how do you deal with that at the breakfast buffet, at dinners, at briefings, on the dive boat? The procedures on liveaboards, given their close quarters, will be tricky, so will you be comfortable with strangers and their protocols? Are the staff and crew members observant? What if someone goes into a coughing fit with five days left to dive? Does that person get quarantined? And where? Will a liveaboard be treated like a cruise ship and not allowed to dock? Or a resort shut down?
Presuming everything is staying well and having a good time, after a few days, some will begin to relax, with less attention to masks and social distancing. But, keep in mind, even though the median incubation period is 4-5 days before one shows symptoms, it can be up to two weeks before an infected person shows symptoms, and about one percent never do. There will be jokes – “well, by now either we all have it, or none of us does” — or some idiot will fake a cough. Oh well.
If you’re comfortable with these possibilities — if you think you can avoid the virus and have a tolerance for risk — then you’re good to go. There are all sorts of good deals out there, so you might as well take advantage of them. The world needs intrepid travelers once again, and getting to great diving is what our lives are all about. Don’t worry about it, a dive trip is to be great fun. Go for it.
Wait for the Vaccine?
But, perhaps you’re still uncomfortable with all of this and want to wait for the vaccine before you pack your bags. Scientists are saying a vaccine won’t be ready for months, the end of the year, or much longer. But at this stage, we don’t know whether the vaccines will prevent one from getting the virus or just reduce or maybe eliminate symptoms. But we do know that no virus vaccine ever developed has been 100% effective.
Seven billion people will be waiting for a vaccine. As it rolls out, what countries will get it, and who will decide? If the British create it, when will it get to America? And in what quantities? If the Americans create it, should it all stay here (The U.S. government is investing in individual companies developing vaccines so Americans can get it first)? Do we share it with our Canadian friends and others?
With no international order or distribution referee, where would the limited quantities be distributed? The rich countries run the show so, one must assume, they will be first in line but is that fair? And if so, then what? Who decides the allocations for Sweden, Japan, or the U.S.? Russia, China, or Argentina? Bangladesh, Kenya, or the Solomon Islands? Will it be orderly or chaotic?
And once the vaccine becomes available in the U.S., who is first in line? Certainly first responders, health workers, people with significant jobs – meatpackers, grocery clerks, social workers – should be at the top of the list, but they weren’t first in line for latex gloves and masks. What about people in crowded facilities, like nursing homes, prisons, hospital staff, shipping centers? What about UPS drivers and pilots? Should older people with shorter lives be lower on the list? Is the more susceptible over 60 crowd – that’s a lot traveling scuba divers – more critical than the 40 somethings with families? Should a 70-year-old overweight male with heart disease who want to go diving be ahead of a 50-year-old high school teacher?
Who will make these decisions when the vaccine is scarce? Absent a national plan and wise leadership, what will happen? Will those who have influence and money, like NBA basketball players or political cronies, get it first? Will the citizens remain orderly and wait their turn, or will the “good people” sporting AK 47s and waving Confederate flags be a force in determining who gets the vaccine? Will we be required to stand in long lines at our drug stores — first come, first serve — until the day’s supply runs out, then return tomorrow and try again?
If you’re waiting to make your trip until you get vaccinated, you may have a very long wait.
Yes, this is a long and exhausting list to consider before you book your next dive trip, and it all boils down to how you assess your risk and whether you are willing to take it for 10 or so days of underwater bliss. Some divers we know have thought it through carefully, feel comfortable, and are headed to the Caribbean and elsewhere in July. So, the pool is open. You’ve been waiting a long time. Are you ready to jump in?
As for my associates and me, we’re all thinking about tropical seas filled with a million fish and colorful reefs, but for now, none of us is planning travel and, truthfully, don’t know when we will. Sooner rather than later, we hope, but we have all decided to wait for better odds and a more comfortable travel environment where we won’t have to be on guard all day long, busy with the detail of keeping the virus at bay. Traveling is supposed to be fun, and right now, it isn’t.
When we’re ready to depart, we will use an experienced dive travel agent who knows our destination, because these days, for sure, we want someone on our side if serious travel problems erupt. That’s another risk we’re not willing to take.