A Glimpse Into a Post Covid World
An American Abroad
(Reykjavik) — In three weeks time I took four tests for Covid-19 and all came back negative. After one flight I received an email telling me that everyone on board tested negative, so I had no worries about having been exposed to the virus while in the air.
Not deliberately, but for my first major trip outside the United States since the pandemic began over a year ago, I chose to visit two of the most Covid safe countries in the world. Iceland and the Faroe Islands. According to the Johns Hopkins Covid tracker, Iceland has had twenty-nine deaths related to the virus and the Faroe Islands has had one. Locally, both countries claim those numbers are inflated.
Except for the aggressive testing, done primarily at the airports, traveling through Iceland and nearby Faroe is like stepping back into pre-pandemic times. Hopefully it is a glimpse into our future. What’s left behind are the stickers on the floor asking you to stand six feet away from strangers and the bottles of hand-sanitizer near every doorway and every check out counter.
On the van to the rental car office near Reykjavik, the driver told me to take off my mask. I wouldn’t be needing it in his country he assured me. And he was right. There were no mask requirements anywhere I went for the next ten days and there were no strange looks when I arrived anywhere maskless. Things were so free and open, it seemed a little strange. On my last travel day, I settled in for a four hour layover and noticed other travelers only loosely abiding by the mask guidelines in place at the airport and no one was making an effort to enforce the rules. I pulled out my laptop, began working, and let my mask hang off my right ear as if I am still a registered Republican.
It all feels like the worst of the pandemic has passed, but we know it hasn’t. Back in the United States, over the Fourth of July weekend, the president made a gesture toward victory, but public health officials were warning a variant of the virus — the Delta variant — could pose a new threat. In some European countries, the Delta variant risks forcing new lockdown measures just as governments were beginning to open their borders.
What have we learned? Is it worth adopting any of the measures we took to stop the spread of the virus as standard procedure to stop the spread of other infectious diseases? I think the answer is probably, yes.
In crowded places, like airport terminals, or subway systems, it just makes common sense to keep a safe distance from people who might be carrying an easily transmittable virus. What’s the harm in wearing a face mask, in public, during cold and flu season? It’s commonplace in other countries.
After the September 11th attacks on the United States, the rules and the expectations for world travel changed. Security became a top priority and many of the procedures we put in place back then are still in place twenty years later. At times, they seem ludicrous. At times, they seem inconsistent. Some airports make you take off your shoes, others are annoyed if you look like you are about to. Some checkpoints make you remove your laptop, others scoff at the requirement. Nevertheless, we all comply for the greater good. I know I am not a threat to airline security, but I go through the motions of proving the point so that everyone feels better about their own safety.
The pandemic has forced us to confront a different kind of threat, one that is even harder to detect. Yes, some of the rules we’ve put in place for ourselves seem over the top, inconsistent, and frustrating, but from the greater good perspective, there’s very little downside and the possibility we may be saving lives if we keep some of those new rules in place. Perhaps not as rules, but as recommended best practices.
Places like Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and New Zealand have managed the pandemic well. They are small countries with small populations. They have that advantage. It is not surprising they are among the first to return to something approaching pre-pandemic living conditions. In the hope we can all get there, it is probably worth the investment in our own health to take what we’ve learned(social distancing, hygiene, and appropriate masking) and apply it to our daily lives, for the rest of our lives.