Please don’t take a vacation in the middle of a global pandemic

By JAKE GAUGHAN

As I boarded the final leg of my journey home, a 12-hour flight from Boston to Honolulu, I was overcome with emotion. Not only had the process of moving out of Middlebury been exhausting, but it had also been extremely hard to decide where I was going to go after leaving campus. In the end, I decided to fly home. Upon arrival, I would immediately self-isolate to mitigate any possible Covid-19 exposure to my local community. Still, as I walked down the jetway, I was barely sure of my decision — and so I was shocked when the plane quickly filled up with tourists. A woman behind me gave an explanation. She had the next two weeks off from her work as a school teacher, and had always wanted to go to Hawaiʻi. When she saw how cheap the tickets were, she just had to buy them. I was stunned. This woman was vacationing to the most remote major city in the world, to the state with the seventh oldest population in the country, in the middle of what had just been declared a global pandemic. I immediately thought of my friends who work in the tourism industry and live with their grandparents (­a common situation in the islands). Working in close proximity to tourists, they’re at high risk for contracting the disease and passing it along to their family members. Every tourist’s decision to vacation jeopardizes the lives of my friends and their families.  

I’m aware of how upsetting the drastic change to spring break plans can be. I’m also aware of the seemingly incredible travel opportunities presented by low airplane fares and plummeting hotel prices. But right now, your decisions as a traveler, as a tourist, are bound to have unintended consequences. At present, any travel disregards social distancing recommendations suggested by doctors and actively harms international efforts to minimize the transmission of Covid-19. For some — namely those traveling home — such transgressions are necessary evils. For others, however, these recommendations are simply white noise to be tuned out on their cheap flights to exotic locales.

Even under normal circumstances, tourism has an outsized impact on local communities. On one hand, it often drives local economies, creating jobs and expanding businesses. On the other hand, members of these communities are often made to watch as their homes are turned into effective theme parks for wealthy out-of-towners. Given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment, these impacts are multiplied exponentially. The societal impacts are compounded by much more serious health risks. Residents of these often geographically isolated locations are already at high risk for a pandemic. The very isolation that makes getaways so enticing also makes it harder for necessary supplies to reach the destinations in question. The locales’ healthcare infrastructure is most likely already susceptible to overload. Moreover, placing a further burden on already delicate food and resource supply chains could prove to be debilitating for locals. Such repercussions are so likely that the Governor of Hawaiʻi is asking tourists to stay out for a month

Corona-tourism isn’t confined to the 50th State. Masses of vacationers are flocking to the slopes of Vermont during this crisis. The beaches of South Florida are filled with college students continuing spring break plans. In the time between when my plane landed and this piece was published, the number of cases in the state of Hawaiʻi rose from 2 to 37. Out of the 37 cases, 35 are believed to have been contracted from out-of-state travel. And the still-crowded beaches of Waikiki indicate that the worst is yet to come. The responsibility of flattening the Covid-19 infection curve lies upon all of us. But tourists who use this crisis as an opportunity to vacation should bear the full guilt of actively making things worse and threatening human lives.   

Jake Gaughan ’22 is one of The Campus’s Opinion editors. He is from Honolulu, Hawaii.