Well, man plans and G-d laughs! I had figured that the beginning of March would be a good time to take a week off and spend Purim and quality time with my daughter Simmy and her children — my grandkids — in Israel for a much-needed catchup visit.
With coronavirus then just starting to seep out of China, I figured I should take extra precautions while in the airport and on the plane since you never know where world travelers in the same plane or airport have been. So part of my trip-planning was preparing ways to be extra safe in the airport and airplane spaces.
I thought I was well-equipped! I had a full box of disposable latex gloves (with one pair already on my hands as I left to go to the airport) and a large package of disinfectant wipes to wipe down and take care of my space around my airplane seat and table, as well as for cleaning any doors or bathroom areas I might use while on the plane.
Fully prepared, off I went. My first stop was the El Al check-in desk where I noticed the clerk was wearing only one glove. I asked her why she was wearing only one glove — did she think only one hand could get infected? She answered that they were short on disposable gloves, so she was doing everything one-handed. “No problem,” I told her. “I have an entire box and would be happy to give you another glove!” I whipped out an extra glove for her, and she was so grateful that she ignored the fact that my two suitcases were overweight by at least ten pounds. I also offered two gloves to the guy next to her who was assisting with the line, and he was so grateful that he lifted those overweight suitcases onto the belt for me and told me not to tax myself unnecessarily.
Gee, I thought to myself, this trip is starting off great. Coronavirus is not going to bother any of us here, with all this goodwill just oozing out from everyone! Of course, every second person in the airport was wearing a face mask, which had me thinking: What is more important — the face mask or the gloves or disinfectant wipes? I’m still not sure, but when I hit security and the officer there was short on gloves, she sure was happy to let me go to the head of the line without waiting after I offered her another pair of disposable gloves from my box of 500 sitting in my purse.
Five minutes later I was checked in and escorted quickly through security. I was thinking to myself what a commodity my box of gloves turned out to be — better than money!
I boarded the plane early since I wanted to take the time to wipe all areas near me with disinfectant wipes. Obviously, I was not the only one to consider this since there were plenty of passengers doing the same thing right around me.
Once we finished, we sat back to relax while the plane took off to Israel. The plane, when we all finished wiping it down, was so sanitized, you probably could have done surgery aboard! Certainly at that point, we felt we beat “corona.”
Little did I know that once I landed in Israel, all I would hear about day and night was the topic of avoiding corona. I hit passport control to see an entire group from Europe being shuffled to the side by security officials. After waiting on line for half an hour while they rounded up the entire group, we heard that security would not let them enter the country and took them to another area where they would be sent back to the country they came from.
In Israel at that point, they had already started picking and choosing who they were letting in and who they were sending back. By my second day there, the news was all abuzz about security rounding up tourist groups from Korea, Italy, and many other countries, taking them by private buses to the airport and sending them home. It seems some of them arrived already infected with coronavirus and infected people around them, triggering lots of quarantine orders all around the country where they had been touring.
Things started getting so crazy that the next thing we heard was that the flights from Europe were being canceled and that many Israelis were stranded in Europe and trying to figure out how to come back to the country. The government finally started bringing all these traveling Israelis home, but all of them were told that from the minute they landed they would have to go directly home and stay in quarantine for 14 days.
Needless to say, many tried to circumvent the rules and leave quarantine (Israelis are notorious for not following rules), only to be picked up by the police and arrested for breaking quarantine instructions. For some reason, when instructing all these returning Israelis that they must stay at home in quarantine for 14 days, no one said anything about what to do with the family members who happened to live in the same house with them, so those family members also ended up in quarantine.
My daughter Simmy said to me, “I don’t think you are going home; they will cancel your flight! You’d better prepare to stay here with me for Pesach!”
I realized that even with the security officials closing everything down, they would make sure that all the flights departed with any and all tourists left in the country — that is how badly they wanted to get rid of us!
So the day after Purim, with my return flight leaving on schedule, I said a sad goodbye to my daughter and grandchildren (who thought they had found a really good way to keep me in Israel longer and were disappointed it did not work) and boarded the plane to go home.
This time, with my gloves on my hands, I entered an airport that looked like a ghost town, and after checking in, I headed to passport control where there were no live people, only machines to identify and authenticate my passport. I boarded my plane home, once again taking the extra time to go through the disinfecting routine.
This time around though, although only a week later, there were obvious changes in place. First off, all the flight attendants and security people both on and off the plane were wearing face masks and gloves. They served the food and put everything away, changing gloves as they went, and disinfecting different areas, including the doors of the plane and bathrooms, throughout the entire trip.
In JFK, it was practically a ghost town, too, and less than a five-minute wait to get through passport control and into the baggage area — mind-boggling! A five-minute wait at passport control was something you could only dream about—and here I was living my “dream” when I least expected it. All passport security personnel were wearing face masks and gloves, another sign of the change in serious consideration of coronavirus protection.
Back at home, as Costco and the other stores have been cleaned out of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, as well as chicken and other supplies, as if all will disappear if it is not bought immediately, I realized that because of my trip, I shopped before I left and have plenty of those supplies in my garage, including my meat order for Pesach. I guess I was more prepared than I even realized!
It’s all absolutely surreal. Wishing everyone good health, and hoping that Israel finalizes the COVID-19 vaccine quickly so we can go back to normal!
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and a licensed N.Y.S. loan officer (FM Home Loans) with over 20 years of experience offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services as well as mortgage services. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa@AVCrealty.com.