It is something so many of us look forward to each year — the Family Vacation.
In our case, it was a week in the Outer Banks, in a beautiful four storey house, not overlooking the beach, but on the beach; so much so that at high tide the waves rolled beneath the house.
This would be our third year in this house. While our previous years here had been during the summer, this year we delayed it until September, anticipating more comfortable temperatures, fewer people, and less traffic.
It would be a full house, with 14 friends and family, but little did we realize that we would soon share our space with an unwanted passenger.
Two days into our vacation, our friend tested positive for COVID.
When this information was shared in a group text, beyond the disappointment that our friend was infected, was this concern – whether the group could continue the vacation safely.
Two sets of safety measures were significant in preventing further spread of the infection and therefore saving our vacation:
First, kudos to this couple who were considerate enough not to overlook symptoms that could have easily been mistaken for something else, and tested, even though doing so risked a response many would rather not know, especially on vacation.
Our infected friend isolated in his room. His wife masked when she brought a food tray to his door, assisted him to the bathroom across the hall (restricted to his use only), or entered his room. She did not share the room. When the husband crossed the hall to use the bathroom or opened the door to slide out the tray, he masked. He frequently opened his balcony door and used the ceiling fan to circulate air. When his symptoms worsened, his wife took him for medical care.
Every day she tested, and every day she tested negative.
Secondly, through the guidance of a friend who is a retired physician, we were able to continue our stay by taking COVID safety precautions. My husband and I masked when we left our room to join the others, who did not mask. We ate our meals alone on the deck, and when tropical storm Phillipe roared through, we ate our meals in our room. We often ventilated our room by opening the balcony door and turning on the ceiling fan. We used hand sanitizer.
The results of our actions — My husband and I did not get COVID, and all but one person returned home COVID free. That person tested positive the day after arriving home, and although she shared the long return trip with three passengers, no one else in the vehicle became infected.
So lesson learned: You cannot let your guard down when it comes to preventing COVID infection. Whether on vacation or at home, if you feel “off,” don’t assume your symptoms are those of sinus infection, flu, a cold or allergies, for they all share commonalities with COVID. Had our friend not tested at the beach, it was possible we all could have become infected.
Make it part of your travel package to include COVID test kits, N-95 masks, hand sanitizer, and common sense.
If you fly, mask in the airport, and while on the plane waiting for take-off or when waiting to exit the plane. Several incidents shared with me about COVID infection have involved air travel, including the person infected during the aforementioned beach vacation, and although air quality is considered good when the plane is in flight, it is the air quality before and after the flight and in the terminal that poses a threat.
COVID may be “in the air”, but taking practical safety steps can reduce the chances of a ruined vacation.
On the other hand, ignorance is not bliss. Disregarding or dismissing symptoms that have the potential to be COVID does not make COVID disappear. A friend shared with me a story of a vacation gone bad when COVID decided to join the party.
As it was told, two couples flew together to vacation in Europe. The trip was especially exciting for one of the travelers as it was to include a family reunion in their ancestral village.
After over a week abroad one of the people became ill and tested positive for COVID. Because his wife did not feel ill, she did not wear a mask or otherwise quarantine from the rest of the party while she was caring for her husband (who was isolated.) Unfortunately, both the husband and wife of the other couple contracted COVID.
The result was that both couples cancelled the rest of their travel plans, with much regret and some resentment. The one couple was unable to attend their family reunion. Another lesson learned.
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!