Greetings from Ireland! By the time you read this, I expect to be back home in Valencia.
Back in 2019, I planned a trip to Ireland during spring 2020, but the pandemic delayed that vacation for two years. I am almost 70 and there still is a lot of the world I want to see. Realistically, I probably have a five- to 10-year window, depending on my future health, so I don’t want to spend years waiting for COVID to disappear before I travel again.
After extensive research, I concluded it was worth the risk to travel. Before going, I had a total of four vaccinations and I consulted with medical professionals to understand the ramifications if I got sick while on vacation. During my career, I have traveled extensively for business and I realize that getting sick while on the road comes with the territory when you travel.
On May 2, I flew to Dublin to go on a 16-day tour of Ireland. That particular tour is targeted at retired baby boomers and the touring company has one of the best reputations in the business. The tour operator requires tour participants to have received two vaccinations and a recent booster.
In all, 24 people, all over the age of 65, participated in the tour. On day three, one of the tour participants felt sick and tested positive for COVID. A couple of days later two more participants became ill.
I was enjoying a wonderful dinner on day nine when all of a sudden I did not feel right. Within 10 minutes, I felt really sick. I went to my hotel room and used an antigen home testing kit. Sure enough — there were the dreaded two pink lines. I tested positive for COVID.
Before the tour was over, 14 of the 24 people on the tour were affected by positive tests. The day before you board a flight destined for the United States, you must take a test administered by a health care professional who documents the results. Without a documented negative test, you can’t fly home. Several people tested positive on the penultimate day of the tour.
Testing positive is problematic for several reasons. First, you have COVID. Second, you must stop and quarantine for 10 days. That typically means being confined to a hotel room. After 10 days, flying home requires retesting with a negative result, or obtaining a doctor’s report stating that you are likely no longer contagious and are “fit to fly” home.
When you test positive, most tour companies will leave you at the hotel at which you were staying. Cruise ships typically drop you off at the next port of call and arrange for you to stay at a hotel there. Despite what the tour operators tell you, you are generally on your own after that. You must pay for all of the resulting costs out of your own pocket. If you have travel insurance, the travel interruption and medical provisions may cover those costs. I have a typical travel insurance policy that was part of the tour package, which was recommended by my travel agent. It looks like I may exceed the policy’s limits. Ten days of hotel and food bills, plus the cost of changing your airfare at the last minute, gets expensive.
A friend who just returned from a three-week cruise in Europe told me that about 10% of the passengers on the cruise ship were taken off the boat because they tested positive for COVID during the cruise. So my takeaway is, if you are planning a trip outside the country, there is a reasonable chance that you will get COVID. Be sure to have adequate travel insurance.
The good news is that people on my tour did not suffer severe COVID symptoms even though they all were between the ages of 65 and 81 and had other comorbidities. Remember, however, that every one of these folks was vaccinated and boosted. Unvaccinated people might not have been as fortunate.
In my case, the worst part was a severe sore throat that lasted for a couple of days. After three days, my immune system clearly kicked in and I was asymptomatic thereafter. However, because I was not able to test negative, I had to obtain a doctor’s report stating that I was fit to fly home. I also experienced difficulty booking a return flight because no seats were available for several days.
I am also astounded at how contagious the variant is. From what I have read, the newer variants are built to be more contagious, but those changes have also apparently made the new variant less lethal.
I believe that there is a high likelihood that many, if not most, Americans will get COVID this year, but we may move from pandemic to endemic levels.
Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.