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Published: September 8th 2022
So……. you’re on a cruise ship headed for some exotic destination, maybe fulfilling a lifetime bucket-list dream; or just getting away from home after a locked down 2-year travel hiatus; or simply onboard for the food and fun, right? Then how in all that’s holy, is the major topic of conversation always turning to the various rumors/myths/truths and lies, ad nauseum, at dining room tables?
Having just completed a 3-cruise sojourn over a period of 44 days and having the delightful (note the sarcasm here) experience of testing positive, becoming quite ill and as a result, being quarantined with Covid, I’m in a unique position to set the record straight. My aim is to document personal observations, actual occurrences, and relate “the good, the bad and the ugly” during this interesting period.
My tale of woe begins when I arrived at the cruise terminal with all relevant health-related documentation previously uploaded to the cruise line’s website, and with paper copies of same on hand (I’m a firm believer in backups). Complete waste of time to upload anything – the check-in guy only wanted to see actual paper and then only looked at the date, verifying I had taken a proctored PCR or Antigen test (more about these later) within the previous 3 days. And yes, I did have a negative result and I had received a total of 4 vaccinations over the past 18 months. He didn’t verify those 4 at all.
Everything was progressing as expected over the coming days until the next-to-last port of call at Dover, England. During those first 10 days, I had noticed several small tables placed directly in front of cabin doors on different decks, signifying an isolation situation, but the numbers fluctuated, and I didn’t see any reason to be concerned. Mask wearing was hit-and-miss as it was not deemed mandatory onboard, for the first 2 cruises, only exceptions being at check-in, entering the various dining room venues and the theater, but in reality, this was not enforced and was left to individual choice. I would put the ratio at 4-to-1 not wearing one.
Fast forward to Dover. I had taken a private tour with a few other passengers, and we were exploring Canterbury mid-afternoon before returning to the ship. Purchasing a sandwich and a bottle of water from Sainsbury’s, I ate this lunch in a quiet garden area of the city. Within an hour, I started feeling extremely tired – I could hardly keep my eyes open on the park bench. Unbeknownst to me, this was the opening salvo of Covid, but it certainly wasn’t any symptom I would have expected. Maybe my allergies were acting up again? Did I have food poisoning from the sandwich? Returning to the tour bus for the ride back to the port, fatigue was fast becoming a problem and I knew something was wrong, but still no other symptoms. I always carry multiple Covid at-home antigen test kits and after swabbing my nostrils, I didn’t have to wait the usual 15 minutes for a result – within 4 seconds, I had two dark lines on the test slide – could it possibly react that fast? Yes, it sure could. A phone call to the ship’s Medical Center and my Covid adventure kicked off big time.
Within minutes of my call a nurse arrived, wearing what I can only describe as a full-body hazmat suit, complete with mask, gloves, and a plastic face shield - I couldn’t tell if it was male or female! Another nose swab, another immediate positive response - that sealed my fate. I was asked to immediately pack up everything I owned and prepare to move down to isolation on deck 8, where a balcony cabin was awaiting my arrival - whoopee, a free upgrade! Less than 15 minutes later, “the Hit Team” was at my door (yes, that is their actual designation), my belongings were loaded on a wheeled cart, and I was escorted to quarantine - using the freight elevator to ensure we wouldn’t run into any passengers enroute. Once there I was instructed as follows:
1. I was not allowed to leave the cabin for any reason whatsoever until I had my first nasal swab retest, scheduled for the morning of the 6th
day of isolation.
2. To call housekeeping when fresh bed linens and towels were required and, horrors of horrors, I would have to make my own bed and clean the bathroom (they even had a spray bottle of disinfectant sitting in the shower!)
3. Food would be provided from ANY venue on the ship, including all specialty restaurants, and this was complimentary for the isolation duration. I just had to call room service at any time.
4. No-one would be permitted to enter my cabin until I tested negative. A table would be placed in front of the cabin door, food/linens/ice etc. would be placed there, and I must wait until the delivery person left before retrieving any items.
5. The doctor would call me daily for an update on my condition, symptoms etc. and proceed from there, based on my responses.
6. Very large bright orange plastic “medical hazard” garbage bags were to be used for all trash, with used linens and towels going into large white plastic bags. Obviously, one would be burned, the other dumped into the laundry. By this time, I was feeling like a leper.
Within a couple of hours, I took a turn for the worse: fever, sore throat, blocked sinuses, headache, chest pains, joints aching from head to foot, and coughing fits which didn’t end until I threw up, leaving me gasping for breath and exhausted. When speaking with the doctor the next morning and reporting all this, he prescribed cough syrup with codeine and a pain killer, which was delivered in minutes by another nurse. I have not received any charges to my onboard account for any medications.
That was the sum total of any human interaction I had for the next 5 full days. Yes, I had the television with a good selection of movies, live tv news channels, music channels; my Kindle loaded with plenty of reading material, and of course my laptop and the internet. However much of this was useless, as I spent the majority of those isolation days in bed, and when I lost my sense of taste and smell (morning of the 3rd
day), I was eyeing the balcony rail with desperation and wild thoughts of simply jumping over it!
I understand that many infected people have little and sometimes no symptoms, but I guess I rolled snake eyes this time. Vaccinations only lessen symptoms, they certainly do not prevent anyone from catching Covid, but thankfully they did their job. Had I not received those 4 shots, I shudder to think what I would have endured - it was already bad enough.
Once I received a negative swab test, the prison doors swung open and I was released back into civilization. I commend the ship’s personnel for their attention during my quarantine period - they simply couldn’t do enough for me. I was directed down to the Medical Center where I got my “get out of jail free card” - the medical certificate which is Proof of Covid Recovery - good apparently for the next six months of not having to take any more Covid tests. With the commencement of the 3rd
cruise, suddenly signs appeared onboard that masks were mandatory just about everywhere - evidently Covid had also decided on a B2B2B adventure of its own, by sweeping through the ship. I still see evidence of this via the standard small tables outside cabin doors on most of the decks - it is now the 4th
week since I completed my term of isolation and yet the virus remains……
Need to know more about at-home tests and what to do with them to save money? Read on…….
In my previous international travels, the Abbott BinaxNow test with eMed telehealth service
had been my go-to choice - I also have their app on my smartphone for instant results, etc. Since I only needed one test for myself as a solo traveler, I tended to buy the two-pack option from Optum
for $69.99 via Amazon or through the cruise line website, I always had one test to take and another as a backup in case my results were unclear or I ran into other issues. However, Optum
recently started adding shipping fees for orders less than $75, so I began researching more cost-effective options. In my online search for virtual proctoring, I came across several services that offered appointments 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there are others, I focused on the first four services I came across:
This is the company that manufactures the tests provided by the US government. It offers a Verified COVID Test Service for Travel
, which The Washington Post discussed in one of their articles back in April 2022 likely leading to increased demand. The service costs $24.99, but the iHealth
website showed it as being sold out, so it would not be a viable option unless appointments opened back up in the future.
With this company, you can pay for Virtual COVID-19 Testing
for $19.95. An added benefit is that flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts are also accepted for payment, according to the website. However, you do need an advance appointment.
This company offers Certified Teleservice COVID Testing
for $9.99. Keep in mind that you’ll need to make an appointment in advance.
Total Testing Solutions:
Another company that offers virtual testing services
, Total Testing Solutions has an option that costs $19, though I have seen it for $14.99 when researching available online testing. You can schedule an appointment and either pay out of pocket or submit your health insurance information for no out-of-pocket costs. However, whether the service itself is eligible for insurance coverage varies.
The first time I did a proctored test was with Optum (PCR)
and upon launching their website, the virtual proctor soon joined by chat. He asked me to wash and sanitize my hands and also said to have my ID handy. Once I confirmed I was ready, he began the testing process. I could hear but not see him, which I have found to be standard with most, but not all, online test procedures.
After showing my proctor my Nevada Driver’s License and the unopened test box, it was then time to open the test kit, which included a test card, a sealed tube containing solution and a swab. I had taken the iHealth
test on my own a couple of times at home, so I was familiar with the components of the kit and how to administer the test.
The proctor instructed me step by step on how to administer the test, which was the same way I had previously done it without proctoring. Once the test was completed, he started a timer for 15 minutes and said I was free to get up from the computer while waiting, though I needed to leave the test in its place in full view of the camera lens. When the 15-minute waiting period passed, I returned to the computer and held up my test card to the camera, showing my negative results. The proctor confirmed it was negative. Within a minute or two, I received a text message with a link to my results. Once I clicked that link, I needed to enter my date of birth to view the results.
The “not detected” result included the name of the testing service, the type of test (PCR), my name, my birthdate, the test date and the result date and time. The proctor asked if I would like a PDF of the result as well, which I requested out of an abundance of caution. The PDF was sent to my email shortly after our call ended.
Even though you no longer need to show proof of a negative test result to enter the U.S., it’s still helpful to know what to expect if you need to do so when traveling to other countries. Plus, there’s a chance the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may reinstate the testing requirement in the coming days should a new variant emerge.
If you have a self-test kit or two lying around at home and need to show negative results the next time you travel, consider using one of those tests with a virtual proctoring service. However, you’ll want to confirm that the country you’re visiting accepts the results from these tests. You’ll have a number of telehealth services to choose from, most of which cost less than $25 and are covered by some insurance providers. My experience with eMed and Optum were pain-free.
Currently, I collect 8 free Antigen at-home tests each month from my local supermarket pharmacy, plus my library hands them out free of charge whenever I ask for additional tests. They are manufactured by different vendors, so I usually have a selection to choose from. I never have less than a dozen in my suitcase on any of my frequent international sojourns.
Tip: download the app for any of these free at-home tests to your smartphone, so you always have a digital health record on hand, especially those which offer proctored services.
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