On Feb. 11, we left Fargo for a long-planned cruise down the Atlantic side of South America. We received prescribed inoculations and a comprehensive briefing on disease prevention, read and listened to briefings from experts from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the coronavirus.
After a long trip from Fargo (FAR) via Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York (JFK) – in which we noticed no warnings or preparations at any airport – we met our cruise ship in Rio de Janeiro. Talk about a dramatic change! At check-in, we each had our temperature taken by a handheld sensor pressed against our forehead. Anyone who recorded a temperature was not allowed to board the ship. There were automatic hand sanitizer globes everywhere, with signs urging their use.
It was the same on board our ship, only more so. Hand sanitizer globes were prominent at every entrance and exit of every public room, in hallways, exercise room and outdoor decks. Electronic screens – both in public spaces and in our private cabin – warned of the virus and encouraged sanitizing.
Our two-week shipboard experience had led us to believe that our country was starting to ramp up its efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus.
On departing Buenos Aires on Feb. 24, nowhere in the airport or on the plane were any notices on coronavirus or hand sanitizers. In Dallas, the few hand sanitizers were placed on the wall, out of the traffic flow, where they had always been. And no temperature checks.
What was new to us was technological change. The paper customs form has been replaced by banks of touch screens. The problem is that touch is the primary way the coronavirus is spread. Each individual screen has been touched by hundreds and hundreds of others. Nowhere were any screen wipes or even hand sanitizer globes.
Contrary to belief, it is not the airplane itself – with all its air filters and its robust airflows – that is a hothouse for transmitting a virus. It’s the airport itself, with its mixing of people from everywhere, in close contact.
When we returned all four of us came down with a virus. Not wanting to be latter-day Typhoid Marys, we imposed a quarantine on ourselves. We called the local medical facility to arrange evaluations, who directed us to continue our quarantine. It was likely not coronavirus, since none of us were either feverish or short of breath. The doctor apologized that they had no diagnosis kits or labs that had any space to evaluate any but the most likely coronavirus cases.
It is likely that we picked up the virus in DFW, likely from the touch screens or some other surface.
The Trump administration claims they are on top of the coronavirus problem. I certainly hope their claims are true. We did not see any evidence at all that would verify those claims.
Signs, hand sanitizer and temperature checks in airports are not rocket science. But they need to be acquired and deployed, people hired and trained. And time is short, and getting shorter. Until that happens, DFW, JFK, or FAR, or every other international airport in the country, is an open door that the coronavirus can walk right through.