Can you believe this is happening?

Just in time for the summer travel season, the world has turned upside down again

If I told you last year that there would be a fourth COVID-19 wave in 2021, would you have believed me? 

Or that, even in the face of another surge, travelers would throw caution to the wind, sometimes literally? Or that vaccine certifications would become a political hot button?

No, you would have probably said. Not in this version of reality.

And that's why the only logical explanation may be that we're living in another reality. You know, like the Matrix. 

I keep telling myself: This is not happening. Maybe you will be telling yourself the same thing soon, too.

Reporting live from the fourth wave

Yesterday, we stopped in San Antonio, Texas, on our way to Florida. The lease on our place in Sedona ran out. We've had our shots, so we're hitting the road.

Perhaps too soon.

This is unbelievable.

For weeks, it looked as if we finally had this virus under control. And then this happened. So why? There are probably lots of reasons, including pandemic fatigue, spring break, and the emergence of dangerous new COVID-19 strains, such as B.1.1.7, also known as the U.K. variant.

But travelers are certainly playing a big part in this latest surge, whether it's obvious (unmasked spring breakers in Miami Beach) or not-so-obvious (super-careful sun worshippers heading to Cancun for a socially distanced vacation).

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Why are travelers throwing caution to the wind?

It was interesting to see the various attitudes toward mask-wearing and social distancing. In Sedona, residents were extra-careful, but spring breakers not as much. The masks started to come off in New Mexico, and by the time we hit the Texas state line, it felt like the pandemic was a distant memory.

The reason: In early March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order lifting the mask mandate in Texas and increasing the capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state "to 100 percent."

As I write this, I'm looking down on the San Antonio riverwalk from my room at the Holiday Inn. At least half the people are unmasked. I expect to find the same situation in Florida, where the governor also opened the state several weeks ago.

Earlier today, I took the kids for a walk on the riverfront. There were still a few blossoms on the trees, but most had already transitioned to leaves. A warm breeze blew through the concrete riverbeds. We found ourselves downwind from several maskless visitors. 

That's when I thought to myself, "These people are literally throwing caution to the wind." But they're doing it because their governor told them it was OK. 

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In case you missed it, vaccination certifications are political

Last week, a TV station in Fargo, North Dakota, invited me to talk about vaccine passports. This is not a controversial topic. I've always said that we need a way to verify our vaccine status securely.

During the interview, the host shared questions from viewers. Some of them came from social media, where he'd announced that I would be a guest and that I supported vaccine passports.

It turns out that while I wasn't looking, half the country decided that vaccine passports were a political issue. Apparently, verifying your vaccination status is not only a violation of your privacy but the beginning of totalitarian rule. Florida has even banned vaccine passports.

Here's one of the more tame responses.


But that wasn't the worst. One of my readers sent me an image of a yellow Star of David that Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust with the caption, "This is your new vaccine passport." It's bizarre, considering that Israel is the only country with a working nationwide vaccine passport. 

Oh, and there's this.

I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would want to hide their vaccine status from the rest of the world? Who could benefit from that? How would it make travel safer?

It's madness, but there's a story here

So here we are, with just 50 days until the start of the summer travel season. Cases are up, and so is the partisan bickering that may have made the USA number one for COVID-19 (in terms of cases per 100,000).

As I said, this is an alternate reality. I keep saying to myself, "I can't believe this is happening!" But it is.

My inner journalist also says there's a story here — and I'm on it.

For the next six months, I'm going to be driving across the country and reporting on the United States as it tries to crawl out of this pandemic pit. I'll be taking pictures and writing about the resumption of travel. I'll explain what I find and put it into context. I'll advise you on where to go and what to avoid.

I'm going to be documenting the adventure on Instagram (here's how to follow me). I'll post my findings exclusively right here on Elliott Confidential. I hope you'll join me.

Which side of the debate are you on? Do you think we should all sign up for a vaccine passport — or are we one step away from losing our freedom? Please be kind to each other in the comments.

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