When I first heard about COVID-19 (coronavirus), I was on a cruise ship, sailing with thousands of other gay men on Atlantis Events’ annual Caribbean cruise. I was lying on my bed, halfheartedly listening to BBC news, when a reporter announced the existence of a new virus that was discovered in Wuhan and was now spreading to the rest of China. Chinese authorities, concerned by this new development, were starting to restrict travel and to quarantine those who were infected. Those of us who sailed on the Atlantis cruise couldn’t care less. We were more interested in deciding what to wear to the dances, the entertainers on board and, of course, the beauty of the other sailors. If any of them carried COVID-19 with them I do not know, though it would not surprise me if they did, like some of the men who attended the recent Winter Party in Miami.
I have a special affinity for cruise ships and for sea cruises, and not only because I have sailed on a few of them. Though retired, I still have a part-time job with a company that provides shoreside and port services for cruise ship passengers in Port Everglades and the Port of Miami. Though I was aware of the spread of gastrointestinal and other diseases among cruise ship guests and crew, I was not ready for the worldwide spread of a new virus by way of cruise ships, now called “floating petri dishes” by comedian Bill Maher and other critics. I began to read and watch horror stories about cruise ships that were not allowed to debark in various ports and forced to sail the seas indefinitely like the Flying Dutchman. It was only a matter of time before all cruise ship travel came to a (hopefully temporary) stop, and I was out of a job. But that was the least of our worries.
By the time all cruise ship companies agreed to cease operations, COVID-19 had spread around the world: to South Korea and Japan, to Iran and Italy and Spain and, of course, to the United States. Medical authorities were alarmed by the new pandemic but not our president who, at least initially, called the “Chinese virus” a “hoax” perpetuated by Democrats and the media to forestall his re-election. Though he later came to accept COVID-19 as the worldwide disaster that it is, he did not make matters better by holding daily press conferences that were exercises in self-service and misinformation. A much better job was done by city mayors and state governors, who proceeded to cancel group gatherings and impose curfews and lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. Social distancing became the order of the day.
Unlike other governors, Florida’s Ron Desantis (a friend of the president) refused to institute a total lockdown. Nor did he cancel or postpone this state’s presidential primary, which at least gave me another day of work. (Being a poll worker is one of my various part-time jobs.) Since then I have been at home, with no work to do outside of my writing. Being at home gave me the time and impetus to do things I would not otherwise do, like give my condo a long-delayed spring cleaning. I also read, write, watch television, buy stuff online and do other things that people do when they are by themselves. Though I am over 65, and thus part of a high-risk group, I am not a diligent stay-at-home type: I go out for walks, to shop, and to visit friends. Thankfully, though I have not been tested, I remain healthy, and I will do my best to keep it that way. Like all of you, I must adjust my life to this new normal, hoping for the day when COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past, or at least something we can control. We have a long way to go.