Traveling the World During COVID

Baruch Hashem, I have a wonderful life. I have achieved my dream of living in Israel. I have to travel to the USA four times a year for a few weeks at a time to manage my business but most of the time I am living in Haifa.

COVID changed my routine. Just like everybody else in the world. But it didn’t stop me from flying.

Most people have stopped flying during this crisis. There is the fear that the risk of getting COVID is greater when traveling on planes. It is a rational fear. The first cases of COVID were all brought to the different parts of the world by people flying on planes. But now, a year into the crisis, we know that air travel is not more dangerous than traveling by bus or train. In fact, it is probably a lot safer.

Empty Ben Gurion Airport

This past year, my wife and I have flown back and forth from Israel to the USA three times. In the USA, we have flown from New York to Orlando to Detroit to Chicago to Los Angeles and San Francisco. We even took a trip to Cancun. In spite of all this travel, my wife and I have taken serious precautions to minimize our risk. We do not meet with friends indoors. We wear masks whenever we are indoors or near other people. We love the outdoors. Our vacations have all been based on hiking or other outdoor activities where the risk of being exposed is much lower. We have repeatedly tested ourselves for COVID. Baruch Hashem, we have managed to stay healthy. Traveling the world, I got to experience first-hand all the different responses, rules and regulations there are to the threat of COVID.

Kayaking Lake Superior

What is crazy is how the restrictions vary across the world. In Florida, it only became mandatory to wear masks in July. Masks have to be worn indoors, but not outdoors. In Chicago, masks have to be worn both indoors and outdoors – but only if you are walking. You can ride your bike around the city without a mask. In New York City, restaurants were closed, but outside the city, restaurants were open – you could literally live in Queens where the restaurants are closed and drive five minutes to Nassau County where the restaurants were open. Disney World in Florida was allowed to open. Disneyland in Los Angeles has remained closed.

Biking in Califonia

The restrictions are based more on people’s feelings than on science. In some places, people felt personal freedom was more important than public health. In other places, people feared that COVID would cause hundreds of millions of deaths. Restrictions reflected the politicians’ response to public sentiment. Rationale leadership does not exist.

Israel is no better. In fact, in my experience, Israel is one of the worst. Just look at the revolving door that leads to the office of the Coronavirus Czar. First, Israel told us we couldn’t leave our homes. Then, we could leave to exercise, but they closed most outdoor spaces. I was allowed to walk the boardwalk in Haifa where it was packed with people, but the national parks were closed.

Now Israel has closed the airports. I don’t know when I will be allowed to return home. Israel may allow me to return but will put me in an isolation hotel for 10 days. No thank you, I will stay in my house in Florida.

We have been back to Israel twice this year. Like the freier that I am, I stayed in quarantine in my home for the full two weeks. It’s not that uncomfortable as I work from home and I can jump rope on my balcony where I have a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. Not once did anyone come to check on me or my wife. Not a phone call. Not a visit. I completely understand why the majority of Israelis are violating quarantine. Nobody is enforcing it.

Before they closed the airports, Israel had a policy that all international travelers had to have a negative COVID test before arriving and then self-quarantine. After 10 days, you could get another test and if negative you could leave quarantine. This is an effective, rational policy that few comply with.

Instead of enforcing the rational laws, Israel just adds new, worse ones. The first law passed is to close the airport. The second law is to force people to quarantine in government-run hotels. It has to be much more cost-effective to send someone to check on me at random times during my quarantine than to pay for me to stay in a government-run hotel.

Israel is our home. We want to go home. We want to see our friends and our family. But most of all, we want to be with our people. But I am not returning if I have to sit in a government-run hotel for 10 days.

This year has been tough on everybody. I am not complaining about how this has affected my life. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have. I am greatly impressed with how efficiently Israel has been vaccinating its population. I just wish that we had better leadership. And I wish that my country would let me come home. Safely.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.