I wish I could remember which scientist of note said this and when, but here’s the gist of his thought: Never mind the threat of nuclear destruction, wild weather or heart disease; it’s viruses that will do us in.
Based on the events of the last three weeks, he might be right.
The words coronavirus and COVID-19 – both names for a new strain of flu – have entered our vocabulary, saturated our consciousness and engulfed our well-being. You can’t listen to the radio, open email, turn on the television or read a newspaper without being hit in the face (but DON’T touch that face!) with talk of this virulent new life form.
And no wonder.
The steady march of the coronavirus has caused school, restaurant and store closures; the quarantine of entire towns; a mass exodus to home offices; the closure of borders; stock market plunges; virus test-kit shortages; the cessation of communion at churches; and the cancellation of major and minor events. The annual SXSW showcase in Austin, Texas, scheduled to open today, will not. The NCAA’s March Madness games will be played in empty halls.
News of COVID-19 has caused long lines at Costco and hoarding of facemasks, bottled water and toilet paper. (People! This virus does NOT strike the gastrointestinal tract.)
Certainly not immune to coronavirus chaos is the travel industry.
Many potential travelers are debating whether to cancel plans, make any new ones or just hunker down at home until…well, no one knows.
Virtuoso, a global network of agencies specializing in luxury and experiential travel, says their customers’ biggest concern is not getting sick, but getting stuck.
Not knowing how long the coronavirus is a threat and whether to alter ships’ itineraries or give refunds, the $45 billion cruise industry is in nervous limbo. (The regular appearance of norovirus, which causes extreme GI symptoms, and the grounding and sinking of a few ships in past years haven’t done the industry any favors either.)
Hotels and tour groups are receiving thousands of cancellations, and many potential passengers are checking the refund policies on their airline tickets.
Travelers should definitely avoid Italy, Iran, China and South Korea, which are on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 3 List.
We should avoid all nonessential travel to these places. Venezuela also is on the list because of growing measle, diphtheria and malaria epidemics.
So do we forget travel altogether?
Everyone must decide for themselves, but it seems that there are still multiple options for getting out of town. Avoiding lengthy flights probably is wise for the short term, but there are plenty of alternatives in this country. Think wide-open spaces like national and state parks – especially some of the less popular ones like those listed here.
Fewer visitors means decreased contact with potential flu carriers, and oh yes — there’s all that bigger-than-life gorgeous scenery.
When you do go, regardless of destination, follow these common-sense guidelines from the CDC.
For more photos and commentary, visit facebook.com/elouise.ondash. Want to share your travels? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.