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  • Dave Talaga

Cruising During the Pandemic

The comedian aboard our Holland-America cruise ship referred to the audience of passengers including me as a “biology experiment.” He said we were in the vanguard of the movement to see if cruises with vaccinations and mask requirements could be viable. His remarks drew some of the biggest laughs of the night.

When I'd booked this 11-day Caribbean cruise for my wife Wendy and me back in the fall of 2021, news of the Omicron variant had just begun to surface. By the time we boarded in January of 2022 however, the Centers for Disease Control advised against cruising. It was too late for us. We had paid our money and nobody told us we could get a refund.

I heard that being on a cruise was safer than being at a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart doesn't require masks in its stores and doesn't mandate that you show a negative Covid test to shop, nor prove that you've been vaccinated at all. All passengers aboard our vessel needed such proof to sail. I thought we would be okay.

Not long after we set sail, I began to have my doubts. I observed passengers coughing or sneezing, sometimes taking their masks off when they did so. And what about the crew? The first day at sea we'd had a number of waiters come by every few seconds asking if we needed anything. After all, my wife and I were among 660 passengers on a vessel designed to hold over 2,000. But not long into the cruise, we ended up going to the bar ourselves to fill our drink order.

I wondered why the dueling pianists who entertained us one night became a soloist on succeeding nights. Or why the four members of a steel drum band pictured on an entertainment itinerary became just three when they actually performed. Then there was the safety drill announcement for all crew “except for those in hard quarantine.” That didn't sound good.

Crew and passengers alike wore their masks religiously but social distancing was not practiced. During one shore excursion aboard a submarine, we were packed more tightly together than teenagers in a Volkswagen Beetle. Masks were still required however.

Then towards the end of the cruise I fell ill. It wasn't anything serious, just a headache and sore throat, but enough to keep me in my room. There were no random screenings onboard, no temperature checks, and no Covid self-testing kits available for sale. Did I want to turn myself in to the ship’s medical staff? I saw the Tik Tok viral video of a Covid positive passenger on another vessel being led into the bowels of the cruise ship by a crewman clad in a Hazmat suit. Not for me.

I was very happy to disembark, so glad that I was able to have that over with and now just the long drive from Fort Lauderdale back to Michigan ahead of me. When I checked into the hotel I 'd reserved for the first night in Lake City, Florida, I handed over my identification and credit card as the desk clerk dutifully handed me the registration form. “Initial here and here, then sign here,” she said.

“What do I initial here for?” I asked.

“That you don't have Covid,” she responded matter-of-factly.

For those old enough to recall, when the late comedian Jackie Gleason was surprised speechless, he would start muttering, “Homina homina homina” to stall for time until he could think of something better to say. I now know how he felt because I almost did it myself.

I asked the clerk, what if I didn't know my Covid status? She said that I could substitute not having Covid symptoms instead. Now my minor symptoms could be just a cold; that's what it felt like. But I just got off a cruise ship too. I asked if there was any place locally where I could get tested and the desk clerk said there was a local testing site.

After checking in at the hotel, I went on-line and registered for an appointment for both my wife and me later that day. Then using the map feature on our cell phone we found the sprawling athletic complex where the testing site was located. We passed by several athletic fields and school buildings with cars parked and people nearby but couldn't locate any obvious testing facility. Then Wendy spotted a cardboard sign stuck into the ground which seemed to point the way to “Covid Test.”

It was just a small dirt track that dead-ended at what looked like an abandoned football field with a couple decrepit looking outbuildings. No cars, no people. “This looks like the place where some guy is going to pop out with a chainsaw,” Wendy observed.

We drove back down the road we'd just driven in on and then spotted a sign lying on the ground that pointed us in the right direction. It turned out that a windstorm earlier had played havoc with the signage, twisting some while flattening others completely. Bottom line: We got tested. Results in 72 hours.

Two days later at another hotel, we got a text message alert at just after 5 a.m. The results? Positive . . . for both of us, quite surprising to my wife who did not exhibit any symptoms. So I guess we know the results of that biology experiment the comedian talked about. Now we just need to report this to Dr. Fauci. By the way, I also tried emailing a report about this to my travel agent who booked our cruise. I got an automatic reply that she had retired at the beginning of January.

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