Like many Americans, by the time spring rolled around after a long, cold, lonely COVID winter, I was ready to get the hell out of dodge for sunnier climes where I could at least pretend life was normal.
But where to go? The pandemic still runs amok, and it seems that fewer people are taking it as seriously as they did last year. I desperately wanted to sit on a beach, swim in the ocean and relax — so, Florida? After all, much of New York seems to have moved there.
Then I saw reports of hordes roaming maskless in the streets, bars and restaurants. Miami Beach even sent SWAT teams out to enforce its emergency curfew, albeit it to little avail as spring-break partiers twerked the night away. This was a non-option for me.
Fate intervened, however, when friends asked me to stay with them on Kamalame Cay, a private island in Andros, Bahamas. I had also heard about Baha Mar, the huge resort in Nassau, Bahamas, that launched a “travel with confidence” program in February: If a guest tests positive for COVID-19 while staying at Baha Mar, the hotel will put them up for 14 days in a suite or fly them privately to the US — for free.
The doctor check-in station at the Baha Mar resort in Nassau, Bahamas.Paula Froelich
Still nervous, I did my research and found that the Bahamas — which has a population of less than 400,000 — had had only 9,460 cases of COVID with just 190 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic. That’s just over a 2 percent infection rate and just under a .05 death rate. Miami-Dade County’s 2.7 million population, meanwhile, has reported a 17 percent infection rate and a .22 death rate. So I decided to spend two days at Baha Mar before joining my friends on Kamalame.
The Bahamas’ low rates are mostly due to the island taking COVID so seriously. Anyone arriving in the country must obtain a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (swab) test taken no more than five days prior to the date of arrival.
Once you land, your health visa lasts for five days. As I had already spent three days on the island, I had to get another PCR test in Nassau before I was allowed to travel to Kamalame Cay in Andros.
“Tourism is our life here — we had no life for a year, and one bad apple can ruin it for all of us,” Wilda, a taxi driver told me. “We take this very seriously.”
And they do. Mask wearing is rigorously enforced inside buildings and in public areas. Sanitization stands are everywhere. Before you can officially check into Baha Mar, you are sent to see the doctor and then quarantined in your room until you get your test results (usually within 20 minutes). You’re then required to wear masks everywhere but the dining areas, pools and beach.
Things were different at Kamalame Cay, a private island with just 27 beachfront bungalows and villas. In fact, it was almost as if COVID hadn’t happened at all. Thanks to regular testing, a plethora of open-air common buildings, and the fact that quite a few people on island haven’t left for months, masks are not worn at all.
All food comes from the small island’s farm or the sea, and people milled together for movie nights, barbecues and cocktail parties.
It turns out Bahamas was the ultimate luxury, not just because of where I stayed, but because it made me feel safe — and normal.
While Miami and Palm Beach might have been nice for a few hours, the worry of “Will I get COVID?” would have ruined any relaxation and kept me shut in my room. I can stay in New York for that.