Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Duh!: I now belong to the club nobody wants to join. Early last week, I tested positive for COVID. I had no philosophical acceptance of the inevitable to comfort me. In my own mind, I’m the guy who can dodge raindrops in a thunderstorm. COVID is strictly for other people. 

The good news is it’s now COVID Lite. My symptoms were so mild as to almost be benign. Sneezes and sniffles. A mild head cold. No fever. No headaches. No loss of taste. But yes, there was all the usual. Lethargy. Torpor. Ennui. Despair.

With COVID, you don’t have cooties; you are the cooties. 

When I got my results from the drive-in PCR test, I was told I needed to quarantine for 10 days. Then I looked at the CDC guidelines; they said five days. To get out of jail, did I need to test negative or merely be symptom-free? And if it’s the former, what kind of test? The home kits, as everyone knows, are notoriously unreliable. The first one I took showed I was negative. Not 12 hours later, I would learn otherwise.

And no, during my self-imposed exile, I never got around to teaching myself Finnish for a book about a Finnish alternative transportation scheme I might be working on. Instead, I wallowed in the wonderfully inexcusable excess of the NFL Playoffs. I watched all four games. What struck me most was the total absence of a single TV commercial depicting how getting vaccinated will give you longer erections or better cell-phone reception. Or, more to the point, drastically improve your odds of survival.

Not one.

The silence remains deafening. 

Credit: Peter Kuper / Cagle Cartoons

I pretended to be a relevant human being by tuning in to government meetings — via Zoom — I would never otherwise watch. Such as the City of Santa Barbara’s Harbor Commission meeting from last week. Big mistake. 

By the time it was over, the blood vessels in my brain wanted to explode. It turns out that the Harbor Commissioners, led by Chair Merit McCrea, are hell-bent on bringing cruise ships back to Santa Barbara. Perhaps as soon as March 16 and perhaps as many as 24 of them. 

The possibility of there being any risk was never explored. Instead, Waterfront Department staff talked about the $850,000 in passenger disembarking fees the city lost because cruise ships were cut off in March 2020. That’s $7 per passenger whether they get off the boat or not. Likewise, commissioners heard that the cruise ship industry allegedly injects $2.4 million into the local economy. 

Where was the discussion about the outbreaks afflicting cruise ships everywhere? In the first two weeks of December, there were 162 cases. In the next two weeks, there were more than 5,013. By December 30, the Center for Disease Control was investigating outbreaks on 90 cruise ships. That same day, the CDC issued what’s known as a Level Four Cruise Travel Advisory. In it, the CDC urged no one to travel via cruise ship no matter how vaccinated. And this is despite the fact that the industry is busting its ass to do things right.

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Was any of this mentioned at the Harbor Commission meeting I watched? No, not one syllable.

The Waterfront Department is reportedly in talks with the county’s Public Health Department, which I am told is loath to intrude with any modicum of common sense. Hand-washing stations will be erected throughout the city’s waterfront; masks will be required. Vaccinations will be required. Hey, I was vaccinated. And I had a booster too. Look at me. 

And if any passenger were to get sick on board — or while gallivanting throughout our picturesque town — they will not be allowed to go to Cottage Hospital or otherwise burden our already overtaxed medical care system. They’d have to go back to Los Angeles or wherever their cruise ship originated. I’m not sure that’s even legal. I’m pretty sure it’s not moral. So why go there?

The real reason we’re having this discussion is because on January 15, the same CDC that had just issued its Level Four warning two weeks before suddenly downgraded its Conditional Sailing Order regulating cruise ships to mere guidelines instead. Why? 

Four days earlier, the CDC ended its protracted legal fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a fearless friend of the cruise ship industry who was arguing the regulations constituted “federal overreach.” Based on recent Supreme Court rulings limiting federal COVID safety requirements, the CDC had cause to believe it would lose. So it backed away from the fight. In so doing, it opened the doors to the stupidity I was privileged to witness. 

One Harbor Commissioner, Michael Nelson, suggested drafting a letter to the City Council calling for the resumption of cruise ships in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has already canceled 45 cruise ships. “I think we’d be making a mistake not to allow them to unload here,” another chimed in, since Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Catalina are already doing so. 

Again, there was no inkling that any commissioner was troubled about unleashing hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors onto the mean streets of Santa Barbara. These would be the same poor souls who’d been breathing each other’s sputum spores in the enclosed environment of their cruise ship. 

The vote was not unanimous. Commissioner Michael Hanrahan abstained. Commissioner Betsy Cramer voted, “Yes, I guess.” The rest were unequivocal. “Yes.” 

The surge, we are told, may have peaked. May. 

And maybe in May we will know. In the meantime, we don’t need to expand the size of the club none of us wants to join.


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