Carla Granger has worked the past 21 years as a maintenance mechanic at the downtown post office. She lives in south St. Louis, her kids are grown, she’s single and travels when she chooses. A trip to the Bahamas in 2014 solidified her resolve to vacation, in and outside the United States, at least four times per year.
“I’ve traveled within the states with my parents and grandparents but that was my first trip outside the United States, and it was like, ‘OK, this is it, I’m hooked,!’” she said.
Granger created a bucket list of places she’d like to visit. It includes destinations in the Caribbean, Paris, Italy, Germany and other European locations. As COVID-19 began its rampage in January 2020, she took a cruise to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and other private islands in the Bahamas.
“They were taking precautions then,” Granger remembers.
“We all had to sign waivers stating that we didn’t have any flu-like symptoms and there were restrictions on the cruise like no buffet and things like that.”
A month later, in February, the Diamond Princess was quarantined immediately after it arrived in Japanese waters, with 3,711 passengers and crew members on board.
The ship was the site of the largest COVID outbreak outside of China. The CDC noted that outbreaks on cruise ships could be common because of the close confines and high proportions of older people who tend to be more vulnerable to the disease.
The travel industry has taken a hard hit in the past year. According to the U.S. Travel Association, international and business travel spending fell 76% and 70% respectively last year. From March through the end of 2020, the association stated, the pandemic resulted in $492 billion in cumulative losses for the entire U.S. travel economy.
As the pandemic started to spread, Granger took a trip to Chicago.
“I was a little nervous about that one,” she admitted. “They were very strict in Chicago. People had to wear masks, stay six feet apart…the whole nine yards.”
The trips to Puerto Rico and Chicago were the only two Granger took last year. This year, with vaccinations up and coronavirus infections down worldwide, Granger is revisiting her bucket list.
She went to San Juan Puerto Rico in March. It was quite different from her early 2020 trip, Granger said:
“It was much stricter. You had to get a COVID test before you went. They had a curfew. It was midnight when I went, and the police were out in force. If you were out after curfew or not wearing a mask, even on the street, you were going to jail.”
Granger described herself as “vaccine hesitant.” Although she hasn’t been inoculated for the virus, she has no doubt it’s real and deadly. It’s why she’s always adhered to rigorous safety precautions.
“I’ve been tested at least 10 times. At one point, it was like once every six weeks. I’ve had several family members who’ve had COVID, so I believe in it wholly. That’s why I’m not traveling as much as I would normally.”
Granger was just hours away from boarding a plane back to St. Louis when she spoke with the St. Louis American. She was struck by the differences between her 2020 and 2021 visits:
“Now, everything is 100% open. People were walking around without masks. They really didn’t have to, even though some stores and hotels said masks were required. The whole limited capacity thing was also totally different this time around.”
Granger isn’t sure if she’ll squeeze four trips into her itinerary this year yet.
“So, it’s like travel…yay! But we still have these variants popping up and we don’t know how effective these vaccines are with these new variants.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending caution for summer travelers. It advises that the fully vaccinated traveler is the safest traveler. Those who are not, the CDC warns, should avoid travel, especially on cruise ships. Older adults and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are still more likely to get severely ill if they get COVID-19.
If you are traveling by air, passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test. The CDC recommends they have their negative result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States.
Granger’s fears about COVID variants are legit. The CDC said that the “Delta Virus,” a highly transmissible variant first identified in India is now sweeping through the United Kingdom and makes up about 10 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The Delta strain, health officials say may carry a risk of more severe illness and transmissibility.
Research is ongoing but scientists say that two doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are 96 percent and 92 percent (respectively) effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant.
It may be a couple more years before Europe is scratched off Granger’s bucket list. As a “vaccine hesitant” individual, she said she’s staying on the side of caution.
“COVID is going down in some parts of the world and that’s good. But I’m not going to be moving around freely…not until I feel like they’ve gotten a better handle on this virus.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.