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Traveling During the Time of COVID-19  

Puerto Vallarta
Credits: c13studio | Adobe Stock images

Felice and I just returned from a short trip to California to see family, just a few steps ahead of the latest COVID-19 outbreaks in both the U.S. and Mexico.

The differences between how the U.S. and Mexico handled health documentation for entry could not have been more different.

First, the U.S. required us to sign an Attestation form indicating we had received a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result, which is required within three days of departure. Second, we had to present the required documentation that our tests were negative. Finally, we had to go online to complete a Mexican government form that asked a number of COVID-19 screening questions. The document with a QR code had to be shown to Alaska Airlines at check-in. We were advised to arrive three hours before our flight to ensure all the paperwork could be processed and security cleared. Even with large summer crowds at Vallarta’s airport, two hours was more than sufficient.

Coming home, just the Mexican government’s online form was required by Alaska.

Masks, of course, were required and only pre-ordered food was available. Even the Alaska magazine was missing, to ensure that the virus could not be transmitted.

Now, let’s take a look at the impact of the two policies. The case rate in the U.S. is increasing dramatically, but for now, mostly in low vaccination rate states. As the CDC describe it, the new wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths is nearly all amongst unvaccinated Americans. Arriving airline passengers are not the cause of COVID-19 now, although they may have contributed to introducing the Delta variant.

In Mexico, which made the decision early on not to impede the vacations of its millions of tourists each year, the virus is once again heading into epidemic territory once again. The state of Sinaloa, which includes the tourist mecca of Mazatlán, is now officially red on the stoplight system of measuring Covid-19 spread, the highest number of cases in the country.

Here in Puerto Vallarta, cases are rising exponentially as many unvaccinated Mexican families take summer vacations at the beach sans masks and plane loads of high school graduates celebrate until the wee hours of the morning, without masks and mostly without vaccinations. The CDC said about one-third of that age group is vaccinated.

So how is the more liberal plan working out for Mexico? Well, not so well. Health agencies report that there have been over 1,600 active cases in the last two weeks alone in Puerto Vallarta, topping even Guadalajara, the second largest city in the country. In Cancún, the number one tourist destination in Mexico, Bloomberg reports that cases have reached a point where the Hard Rock hotel has set aside two floors just for guests with symptoms. And, with a 15 percent rise in tourism over June of 2020, Cabo isn’t doing much better.

Yes, traveling in the time of COVID-19 is more of a hassle than usual, but is it really asking too much of tourists to Mexico to take a simple COVID-19 test before arriving to protect themselves and us?