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Hello Paris My Old Friend: When Can I Come See You Again?

As of April 4th, France had received 15.7 million vaccines. They have administered the first dose to 17.6% of the eligible population. France also reported half a million cases last week, schools have closed for the third time, and Paris fined over 100 restaurants for violating lockdown this month. I started checking the EDEC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) every week since I discovered that my international airfare credit has a hard deadline of December 31, 2021. Tick tock, tick tock.

I posted a few weeks ago about wanderlust versus experience lust and how we weren’t going anywhere for spring break. But make no mistake I am itching to travel. I can’t take Scarlett anywhere until she’s vaccinated which could take up to a year. Pfizer and Moderna both began trials on 6 months to 11 years in March, and Israel has been giving children Pfizer from the get go. But who knows how long it will take the CDC to approve it. They’ve been sitting on the approval for 12-15 years for a while now. I feel sad for her every time I cancel yet another Disney vacation. I have to remind myself Disney is not going anywhere and no child was ever hospitalized of not getting to go to Disney. Whereas Scarlett has frequently been hospitalized by catching the common cold. But Pat and I are both fully vaccinated.

I remember back in May of 2020, when it was clear that this virus wasn’t going anywhere, Googling “when will it be safe to travel again?” In June of 2020, we bought another trip to Paris in an auction that had a hard deadline of 2021, thinking surely that would be fine. Now I find myself once again stalking the internet for data to support that I can go to France before my time runs out. We have quite the trip planned: three days in Bordeaux, one in Champagne, six in Paris. Air B&Bs are dirt cheap if you book right now, fully refundable of course. We’re shooting for November. That seems totally reasonable right?

In the EU the discussion around vaccine passports (they’re calling them certificates) is as highly divisive as it is here. Southern European countries that rely on tourism are advocating for the vaccine certificate as they are desperate to open their doors to tourists. However, France is one of the countries arguing against it on the basis of it being discriminatory since most Europeans haven’t been vaccinated. Yet they remain in lockdown.

It seems pretty clear at this point that this virus can’t be controlled by lockdowns and quarantines. You don’t catch Covid at Target or restaurants (although tightly packed Parisian cafes are another matter entirely). You catch Covid at family gatherings where you hug grandma who came up from Florida and didn’t get tested. You can’t stop people from seeing their family, no matter how much you warn them against it or make it illegal. You can certainly make it better temporarily, but every time countries come out of lockdowns, numbers rise again. I really don’t understand why a country on its third lockdown would be against a vaccine passport.

Disney said they were interested in the idea and then the Florida governor immediately said they were suing the US government to stop such a thing from happening. I honestly doubt Disneyworld will institute a vaccine passport until the majority of Americans have been vaccinated. Like France, they don’t want to limit their customers to only those who have had the opportunity to get vaccinated. Unlike France, they have their Covid situation under control. Every other week you read a report about Disneyworld tossing out people who refuse the temperature check or wear their masks. It’s a zero tolerance policy unlike the rest of the country where we’re really only encouraging people to follow the rules with few consequences when caught violating it.

I have no doubt Disneyworld will fling it’s doors open the second they get all cast members (that’s what they call employees) vaccinated. Disney is not in the business of leaving money on the table. Neither should France. I can’t fathom how they link life in France could ever get back to normal without mass vaccination. Café life is everything in Paris. Socially distancing tables in the hundreds of tiny cafes isn’t a thing. Even in the offseason Versailles was shoulder to shoulder. Far worse than Disneyworld, and Disneyworld is mostly outside.

As a former Liberterian and someone who adamantly opposed forcing businesses to ban smoking, I get it, people should have free choice over what they put into their bodies. The question is, should people then be free to go wherever they want to, potentially spreading a deadly virus with them? That’s above my pay grade. I like bars better without smokers. I doubt that would have come to be without the change in the law. The law doesn’t say you can’t smoke, it just says you can’t do it at bars and restaurants.

I have accepted that Scarlett can’t go anywhere until she is vaccinated. It sucks, it really does, her health has to come first. But it seems silly to me to stay on lockdown over principles when tourists like myself are ready to show our vaccine cards and infuse much needed cash into the economy. Obviously the situation is more complicated than that. Here in Maryland, we have a distribution problem, rather than a supply problem. However, nationwide we have administered almost as much vaccine as we have. The estimation was that by July every adult in the US who wants to be, will be vaccinated. Then came the Johnson & Johnson fiasco. Never the less, the estimates on Europe are much further out.

The BBC has published a lot of articles on the anti-vax movement in France. Very imperfect polls have indicated that only 40% of the French population wants the vaccine, but that was back in January, before the third lockdown. The number of people I know who said in January they didn’t want it, who are now desperately trying to get an appointment is high. Also, an imperfect data point. I have to imagine the politics on this are more than a little complicated. On the one hand cases were wildly out of control in Florida, on the other hand they didn’t really care so there was never really a lock down. How can you be a country that cares enough to have shut down three times and also reject the vaccine?

I suppose it actually doesn’t matter to me if Paris adopts a vaccine passport or not. We are vaccinated so it’s 80-90% safe for us to go, as long as they open their doors. But what would that even look like? I recently saw a post on my favorite Facebook group, Travel Fashion Girls, saying the author wanted to get out of her hometown and vacation somewhere in the US, where should she go? Only 10% of the comments were recommendations on where to visit, and the other 90% were people saying don’t come to my city. Some of it was people saying we don’t want you here potentially spreading the virus around, some of it was people saying there’s nothing open or fun to do, and some of it was people saying it isn’t safe here.

The only place I took Scarlett over spring break was Ladew Topiary Gardens. It’s a huge outdoor garden that’s never crowded. The last time we went to the zoo on a school holiday was in January, it was freezing and there were too many people for my taste. It wasn’t fun and it didn’t feel safe. Baltimore is open after essentially a year of being closed, but I wouldn’t come here on vacation right now. Paris isn’t Paris without café life and even though I am vaccinated I don’t want to be shoulder to shoulder with potentially 60% of the people around me not being vaccinated.

This weekend my cousin Sarah and I had a long hard talk about what we needed to come back at Disneyworld before we are willing to go and spend thousands of dollars. We agreed that we could live without fireworks and wearing masks indoors but if we can’t walk and eat or drink outdoors that was the deal breaker. Pat and I will have to have the same conversation about Paris at some point. I should probably stop checking the stats every week, 6 months out, and hope that things get better. In the meantime, I am going to take my vaccinated self to a bar and at least pretend things are normal for a few hours.

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