Ben Schlappig, known as Lucky from the One Mile at a Time blog is contemplating a trip to Iceland next month and the way he frames the discussion, and the ensuing comments, are a fascinating sociological study in how people are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic and travel.
There are some people who should certainly isolate themselves – anyone that’s elderly and especially with pre-existing health conditions is at greatest risk from the SARS-CoV-2 virus for instance. And there are places that you shouldn’t travel to, current coronavirus hot spots like the New York area (still), probably Chicago and Los Angeles, and certainly Russia, Brazil, and Turkey.
However what Ben is describing is incredibly safe, at least compared to the various risks we’ve incurred on a daily basis like driving in cars and eating fatty foods. He’s talking about visiting Iceland – which plans to welcome visitors starting June 15, with COVID-19 testing on arrival. He shouldn’t be sheepish or apologetic about this.
- Being outdoors in Iceland is very low risk, lower risk than going to the grocery store near his home in Florida.
- While he could well fly with someone who has the virus, and there’s a chance that person could spread it and Ben or his husband would be one of the people that catches it, since everyone on the plane is getting tested on arrival they’re likely to know very quickly if they were exposed to someone with COVID-19 during travel and can self-quarantine in Iceland for two weeks.
- If they did get the virus they’re are at low risk of the most serious challenges from the virus because they’re young. To be sure there are outlier cases of younger people without pre-existing conditions who wind up with real problems but those are rare, if you lived avoiding that level of risk you wouldn’t drive to the grocery store in non-COVID times.
- The reason for them to take measures to avoid getting the virus is less to protect themselves as much as to avoid spreading the virus. However they’ll be tested on arrival, limiting the likelihood they’ll be asymptomatically spreading it in Iceland. And Ben says he plans to self-isolate on return. So the risk of spreading it back in Florida is very low as well – less than going to the grocery store at home.
You can create a story where he picks up the virus inside of Iceland (where the virus is almost non-existent today) but wouldn’t have picked it up at the grocery store or the Florida beaches. And you can further suggest that he spreads it on the flight home. That could happen, but we’re not living in total lock down in fact much of the country is opening up.
My barber shop in Texas is re-opening. Gyms and exercise studios (Orange Theory!) re-open on Monday. The governor is expected to announce a plan to re-open bars next week. What Ben is talking about is far lower risk. He should take the trip – and do so without apology.
While there are readers who advocate ‘no travel until a vaccine’ even a vaccine isn’t a panacea. Like the flu shot it may not be completely effective. We may see a vaccine that prevents 30% of people from contracting the virus, and that reduces severity of the illness for some who do catch it.
Indeed to the extent that hospitalizations remain at manageable levels we should continue to experiment to find ways to live life while avoiding virus spread, recognizing that catching it later is better than catching it now because of the speed at which research on treatments is progressing. It is time for some people to start planning travel to some places.
It’s far to stay inside and fair to argue from a principled position for total lock down. However travel is already off the bottom. We’re seeing that in passenger numbers and hotel occupancy (this week ends five straight of increased hotel stays). I’m seeing it in forward air bookings as well with plenty of reduce schedule flights filling up in July. Car rentals are up, too.
What’s important is to travel responsibly, for some people to avoid it altogether, and to engage only with those businesses you trust to follow the very best protocols.