Cruise report: Port of Red Bay, Labrador

Red Bay, Canada marked my first visit to Labrador, the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s the most northeasterly part of North America, according to Wikipedia.

Our transatlantic cruise itinerary called for embarking in Boston, then calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston for disembarkation.HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

We were in Red Bay on 7-August-2022.

Green hill descends through a veil of fog to grey ocean waterOn a voyage marked by exceptionally good weather, Red Bay gave us a misty, overcast day. From the ship, I was impressed by how beautiful it was. I love to be wrapped in the mystery of fog, especially beside the sea.

We had no excursions booked for this port, so I enjoyed a leisurely morning on board before making my way to the lower deck from which tenders depart. I wanted to minimize my time in crowds, and this was an excellent choice in that regard.

Click here to download PDF of HAL Daily Program front and back covers for this port.

First impressions

Red Bay was the first tender port on our itinerary. I’d taken a few cruises before, but never before had I availed myself of the tenders on a HAL vessel, plus my last cruise was several years prior to the pandemic.

How to board a cruise ship tender

Fortunately, the ship’s announcements make it easy to figure out where to go and what to do in every port, whether docked or using small tender boats to whisk passengers ashore.

The only possible mistake is not having your stateroom television tuned to the appropriate channel to make public announcements audible in private rooms. Those waiting in public areas will hear all broadcasts by the ship’s officers, but only vital ones are piped into cabins.

I made my way to the lower deck from which tenders depart, and found just a few people waiting the next trip. Another newbie mistake is failing to note when the last tender will return to the ship, or not synchronizing your personal timepiece to the correct local time. We had until 15:30 in Red Bay.

If you’ve never tendered from a cruise ship before, you should understand that you will be scanned on and off the ship in the interior hallway, just as you would be when docked. Ship’s security mans two podiums at all times when guests traverse the passage, checking identification for everyone.

Even anchored offshore, no one can wander onto a cruise ship!

There is a fairly steep staircase down to water level where several crew members are on duty to lend a hand; no corners are cut on safety here! Just be aware, if you are very anxious, that you are exposed to the elements on the ship side when boarding a tender, and it can be colder/wetter near the water line.

Passengers board the tender boatFor those using wheelchairs, staff will escort you through a different part of the ship—via elevator, perhaps in a service passageway—and bring you out at the water line through a different hatch. I didn’t take part in that process to offer more details, but I saw other passengers with these escorts.

Those with mobility impairments are seated right near the tender doors, eliminating the need to manage the small boat’s two interior steps. This can be the most exposed area, however, to wind and sea spray.

It seems likely you should allow additional time going ashore if extra assistance is required because it is clearly a very manual process involving multiple crew members.

View of buoy through tender window showing white capped wavesSea conditions were smooth in the morning, but worsened by my return trip, and a good sized wave managed to splash through the open side doors of the tender I took back to the ship. A few people sitting right next to the door got wet. That’s the only time I saw a wave enter a tender during this trip, but passengers on the level benches at the door would be in the position most likely to experience this issue.

In Red Bay, I went ashore alone. Our family opted to self-isolate for the first few days of our journey, reducing any readily avoidable risk of catching COVID as much as possible before we made it to Greenland, a must see port of call for my husband. To this day, we avoid all densely populated indoor environments.

Perhaps in response to their mother’s love of travel, my kids can be a bit blasé about visiting new places. They also adore sea days on a cruise ship. Both teens stayed on board with my husband while I went to Red Bay.

Canada and Labrador flags flying against overcast skyRed Bay port dock

For a tiny cruise port, Red Bay offered a very level, easy to traverse dock on its end. I hadn’t yet gotten into the habit of swapping my ship’s key card for my iPhone on my neck lanyard, so I didn’t get any pictures of the walkway as I used it.

View through tender window of dock in Red Bay with crew member waiting to assistI did catch this snapshot of the Red Bay dock from my seat inside the tender, through the window.

The decking was smooth with no obstructions ready to catch unsteady feet. As in every port, the ship’s crew set out a small portable step, but someone was constantly available to offer a hand for those who needed it.

A portable ramp is offered on just some of the tenders, and it is extended as needed for wheelchair users. You may have to wait for the correct boat’s arrival if you require the ramp.

Truck parked off gravel side street with paved rural highway and buildings clustered across a bayLike many coastal areas, there was a slope up and away from the ocean, but Red Bay didn’t feel exceptionally hilly.

There were no sidewalks, and occasional vehicles seemed to express frustration via slightly aggressive driving with having so many distracted pedestrians wandering along a highway. Compared to most major cities, typical drivers here were quite considerate to pedestrians, however.

Cell phone safety for fumble fingers on the dock

My arthritis gives me fumble fingers, so I only hand-carry my phone in precarious circumstances if I’ve got it tethered to my body. Every tender port presented multiple situations where I feared dropping it into the sea. These were also frequently times where I wanted to capture memories of what conditions were like or where I’d been.

I use BlackRapid Tether Tabs—adhered to my hard case, not the iPhone itself—to create an anchor point for a lanyard or other strap. Buy Tether Tabs direct where a 3 pack costs $16.95 or from Amazon for $14.90 a pair.

After this first tender port, I got into the habit of physically tethering my phone before setting out from the ship’s lobby. To feel safe and comfortable, I need to keep both hands on both side railings while moving between the ship and its tender.

I learned about keeping three points of contact at all times from a TV show about firemen, but the idea is sound and endorsed by OSHA.

Walking around scenic Red Bay

With no excursion, I simply walked around the small, rural town, soaking in the atmosphere and taking pictures. I found it to be a scenic place, though I kept hoping the sun would properly break through. It teased, but never really shone for us that day.

Red Bay United Church with foggy sky overheadI do love the look of almost-sun in a nebulous sky, however, and got plenty of photos I really like.

This was one of the ports where the huge number of cruise ship passengers relative to locals was really noticeable. Red Bay’s population in the very low hundreds is trivial compared to Nieuw Statendam’s 2666 passenger capacity.

One of my favorite photos from the entire trip is of a simple pair of red Adirondack chairs at the end of a weathered dock looking out over the foggy ocean. Somehow, this sums up what I like best about the sea.Pair of Adirondack chairs at the end of a jetty facing foggy sea

Obviously, that isn’t sunscreen and swimwear!

Weather & climate in Red Bay, Labrador

For August 7th, typical weather conditions in Red Bay are a high of 65ºF with a low of 58ºF. Sunrise was at 05:49; sunset at 20:54.

Aside from overcast skies, I didn’t need any special gear to handle the summer weather at this port. I wore my jacket because it looked like rain, but the abundant clouds never opened up. Unless you plan a long hike, I think it is safe to dress as you would for most other northern coastal areas.

I.e., the weather can always turn quickly near the sea, but Red Bay’s summer climate is not extreme.

Standard walking shoes will be adequate for moving around the town, though side roads were often gravel as opposed to asphalt.

I’ve read reports of the insects being terrible here, but I did not need my head net in Red Bay.

Shore Excursions by Holland America Line

I wish I could offer more information about tourism in Red Bay, but my family’s higher than average degree of COVID caution meant I had to skip any indoor exploration or shared vehicle in this port.

We did not book or take any HAL excursions here. The only offerings were a $70 walking tour or two different bus tours priced at $260 for 6.5 hrs or $150 for 4.5 hrs. All of these sold out in advance during 2022, the summer of “revenge travel.”

In general, I find walking tours sold by any cruise line overpriced. Usually, I can visit the same places on my own and learn just as much. I was particularly concerned about going into what I assumed would be a small visitor center in a large crowd, but I did find myself wishing for a local to ask about some of what I saw on my own in Red Bay.

Red Bay mysterious log pilesFor example, I still don’t know what the huge, teepee shaped piles of logs were that I could see in the distance.

Two men assemble yellow sticks into teepee formation with sailboats visible on ocean behind themThose structures do remind me vaguely of a friend’s art installation elsewhere on the Atlantic coast, though.

The town offered a free, one page pamphlet; click here for to download the PDF. I appreciate when a locality provides a printed map like this one for visiting tourists.

The Red Bay National Historic Site Interpretation Centre was stuffed with other passengers, so I didn’t take the risk of infection to view the chalupa* recovered from the sea bed or their other exhibits. Here’s the official Canadian government site for the national park.

Green road sign indicating Interpretation CentreWe bought an annual Canadian national parks pass, the Discovery Pass, which would have covered entry fees into this site. Our family of four broke even on the CAD145 pass after visiting just four Parks Canada sites; the cheapskate in me wishes we’d used it at all of the many possible sites at the ports we visited.

Note: Parks Canada is the organization equivalent to the U.S. National Parks Service.

Tickets for the boat to nearby Saddle Island were sold out, and I wasn’t yet ready to take the risk that it would be a small or enclosed vessel anyway. Some said the walking tour there was the highlight of this stop.

Enterprising ad for Whaler's Quest tourism business in Red Bay, Labrador - 1I went inside the gift shop/restaurant near the visitor’s center just long enough to buy a Labrador flag sticker to add to my hard sided luggage. The lady working at the counter was friendly and kind, but it was obvious that capacity was strained in this venue. I found it uncomfortably crowded indoors.

The smell of food cooking in that tiny restaurant bursting with Holland America passengers is what finally nudged me back to the ship before the last tender. I was hungry, but there was no other obvious place to buy food in town.

My visit to Red Bay with a couple of thousand other tourists was pleasant… but frustrating. It left me quite eager to return on a day when the town hosts more a more typical level of visitors. I’m thinking car camping, travel by RV, or taking a sailor friend up on joining him for a bare boat charter might be the way to go.

I’m certain Red Bay still has a lot to offer that I have yet to see.

Other links to information about Red Bay

* No, not a Taco Bell special, but a fishing boat. The Basque spelling is txalupa, and here’s the Wikipedia link for general information on these historic vessels.


This post includes a review of a company in which I have a financial interest. I own enough shares of stock in Holland America Line’s parent company, CCL, to earn their Shareholder Benefit when I travel with any of their subsidiaries. This post is not intended to offer financial or investment advice; it represents my personal experience as a paying cruise passenger.

My cruise was booked through a travel agent at a standard, published rate.

I will never post an opinion behind which I’m unwilling to stand, but I promise to always be transparent about whether I will realize monetary gain from a reader taking my advice on a product or service.

Cruise report: Port of Qaqortoq, Greenland

Qaqortoq, Greenland was our first stop on this massive island. Greenland is a country that’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark, so theoretically and sometimes culturally European, yet also geologically located on the North American plate. It can feel vaguely similar to Iceland or Canada’s northern maritime towns, but this place really has an ambiance all its own.

Whether North America, Europe, or none of the above, I was really excited about visiting Greenland. As a destination, Qaqortoq did not disappoint!

Clouds and sun over harborside buildings visible from Nieuw Statendam

If you want to try to pronounce the name correctly, tuck your tongue against the roof of your mouth as far back as possible down your throat to make a clicking sound on every Q and keep the vowels very short. My best attempt at transliteration: Kuh-Kohr-toCK.

Our transatlantic cruise itinerary called for embarking in Boston, then calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston for disembarkation.HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

We were in Qaqortog on 9-August-2022.

I’ll speak to the specifics of being in port momentarily, but I’ll begin with a confession: I fell in love with icebergs off the coast of Greenland! This was my first time floating by these majestic chunks of sea ice, and I ran outside in my pajamas to capture my first poor photo of one.

iceberg looking like a giant white turtle floating along off my cruise stateroom balcony with hills in the distance behindI’ve got the polar cruising bug now, and I have already booked trips through this same region for each of the next two summers.

First impressions & tender to shore

This was my second time boarding a small tender boat to go ashore from the Holland America vessel, Nieuw Statendam.

Our first port at anchor was the small Canadian town of Red Bay, Labrador, in Canada, but I had no firm plans for that day, so I waited until the major crush of passengers had gone ashore before making the trip myself.

Our family opted to self-isolate for the first few days of our journey, reducing any readily avoidable risk of catching COVID as much as possible before we made it to Greenland, a must see port of call for my husband. To this day, we avoid all densely populated indoor environments.

With morning excursions planned in Qaqortoq—but not ship’s excursions early enough to warrant queue-skipping tender passes—waiting out the crowds wasn’t an option. DH and my eldest got tender tickets from the lounge where they were being offered, and my status as a Neptune Suite guest meant I could join them in the line up for the next available tender at my convenience.

Everyone aboard seemed eager to get ashore in Greenland, so those early tenders were full. HAL doesn’t cram them to maximum occupancy, but several people were seated on each available bench. I shudder to imagine being packed into one of these in its capacity as a lifeboat in an emergency with ≅20% more bodies inside!

My ride back to the ship at the end of the day offered significantly more personal space. You can compare conditions for yourself from my two tender photos.

Holland America cruise ship visible behind buildings along the edge of harbor

Nieuw Statendam anchored not far from the tender pier, making a relatively quick trip from ship to shore. Continue reading

Cruise report: HAL Nieuw Statendam transatlantic with teens

The kids and I sailed with Holland America Line once before, when they were fairly young. Embarking on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam in August 2022 was my husband’s first cruise with this company. We spent 24 days together on this grand vessel, visiting four countries in addition to the United States, and briefly crossing into the Arctic Circle.Certificate signed by Captain Barhorst showing crossing Friday, 8/12/2022 at 20:25

The experience was good enough for us to purchase Future Cruise Credits (FCC)—a minor commitment to future travel with the same company—while still on board.

Link to explanation of FCC’s at The Points Guy site

Our transatlantic (TATL) cruise itinerary called for boarding the ship in Boston, calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston.

The round trip itinerary—no flights required from our New England home—absolutely sold us on this particular itinerary. HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

If we hadn’t had a credit to use from a scheduled 2020 trip cancelled due to the pandemic, it’s unlikely we would have gone anywhere during the rampant snarling of summer travel in 2022. If we’d had an international flight planned, I can guarantee we would have called off any trip as reports of hours’ long lines snaking outside of airports proliferated in the lead up to our departure.

While our cruise wasn’t perfect, the hassles were fairly minimal and we found the experience well worth the bumps in those road that we did encounter.Holland America line vessel, rear view

I plan to publish a series of posts covering ports we visited, but, today, I’ll begin with an overview of embarking on transatlantic travel on HAL as a family with teens. I hope this perspective is helpful to other potential family cruisers since Holland America has a reputation for catering to an elderly crowd.

My kids enjoyed the trip, but there were very few people their age on the ship. We socialized with each other and with adults with whom I’d become acquainted on Cruise Critic prior to the voyage.

In addition to a lack of youth-oriented trip reports, I also couldn’t find much information for travelers with special needs regarding Polar-adjacent travel in the North Atlantic. I live with a chronic condition that sometimes affects my mobility and energy levels. Here’s hoping I can offer relevant tips for future adventurers with similar limitations in this and future posts.

First impressions

As it happens, one of the first SNAFU’s of our trip occurred at its very beginning: embarkation from Boston’s Flynn (formerly Black Falcon) Cruise Port was a mess. More frequent cruisers than I commented later that they’d never endured such a poorly executed boarding elsewhere or in Boston.

Here’s the official Massport site for the cruise terminal.

It’s easy to mock social media and blame it for many of society’s ills, but the utility of crowdsourced information cannot be denied. If I weren’t an active member of Cruise Critic—and a participant in a Roll Call for our August voyage—my embarkation experience could have been even worse. Tips from passengers who arrived at the port earlier than we did saved us at least a couple of hours of unnecessary waiting on site since we could elect to leave our home later to drive to the terminal.

To begin with, HAL sent notification a day ahead of boarding offering a completely revised boarding plan with new times for each passenger, all of which superseded the information given on one’s boarding pass. By not updating boarding passes—offered in digital format for cruise passengers just like most of us use on flights!—Holland America missed an opportunity to reduce confusion instead of sowing it.

Screenshot of HAL's recommended cruise app, NavigatorHAL reaped what it sowed. Thousands of people waited outside for hours beyond the embarkation time on their documents.

Nowhere in their last minute, change-of-plans missive did HAL inform embarking passengers that their digital documents would fail to update to reflect the new instructions. It’s bad to have a communication system that can’t update digital docs in real time; it’s worse not to confess to this fact up front to help reduce confusion!

At least two ambulances were required to whisk away people who weren’t up to the physical demands of standing in line for so long. We were incredibly fortunate that a recent heat wave ended before this marathon queue, but even 80°F became uncomfortable to many, and, while much of the line was shaded by adjacent buildings, there was no other shelter. Almost no seating was available, either.

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorBecause my own mobility limitations wax and wane, I always register a request with common carriers at the time of booking for wheelchair assistance. I’m often well enough to decline the requested service upon arrival at a terminal, but it is harder to get help on demand when it is needed if I haven’t initiated the process in advance. At Boston’s cruise port, it was lucky I was having a pretty good day.

When we arrived at the port, I checked in with an employee and noted we’d requested wheelchair assistance. According to that agent, “So did 1/3 of the people here waiting to board!”

Massport was short by at least dozens of personnel to offer wheelchair assistance. I believe that the lack of “timely assistance” was in violation of U.S. law. It reflected poorly on the port and on the city of Boston.

While the kind Massport employee I’d encountered couldn’t do much for me or anyone else, this lady did find folding chairs for a few of us who were concerned about walking the length of the line that disappeared out of sight across at least two long city blocks. Later arrivals sat on the curb.

My husband and kids trekked to the back of the line, and I waited in tolerable conditions if not comfort with the “special assistance” crowd. It was from that vantage point near the entrance that I saw one woman collapse and get taken away by ambulance.

By the time I boarded, I had yet to see a single passenger escorted onto the ship via wheelchair pushed by port employees. That period of time extended for well over an hour. The fortunate disabled passengers were those traveling with their own mobility aids and friends or family members capable of providing assistance.

After about an hour waiting alone, my family made it to the front of the line where I was sitting. Since no wheelchair assistance passengers were being taken aboard the ship as far as I could see, I rejoined them. My kids took my carry on bag, and I walked myself carefully through the disorganized thicket inside the terminal building with an occasional hand from one of my able-bodied relatives.Embarkation crowdThe gangway with which we boarded Nieuw Statendam was set at a particularly steep angle, too. A fellow passenger said they’d heard that the usual “jet bridge” style boarding ramp for Boston was broken and awaiting repairs, but I have no confirmation for that rumor. I was glad I’d brought my cane to help negotiate boarding, though, fortunately, I didn’t need it much once we were at sea.

Again, according to people who have cruised Boston more than I have, there is a port building here with some features of a modern travel terminal. We were not in that space! Instead, the Nieuw Statendam passengers were being processed in an open, warehouse-like space that might’ve felt familiar to our forebears’ experience at Ellis Island.

The flooring was uneven asphalt, there was no climate control, and there was no reasonable signage to help anyone self-select the correct lines. With various levels of “self check in” one might have performed prior to arriving at the port, there were at least three different types of confirmations that might be required to complete check in on site.

Through dumb luck, we were in the correct line for those who had performed the maximum online steps ahead of time, and we spent only ten to 20 minutes finishing up the check in process before preceding to the gangway that led onto the ship. The new facial recognition software did speed up check in, and, interestingly, could identify ³⁄4 of us with our N95 masks still in place.

One member of the family had to remove a protective mask to be correctly ID’d by the computer.

Some of the confusing requirements befuddling our embarkation day may be laid at the feet of COVID-19. There are national directives demanding certain steps or paperwork, it’s true. Failing to post signage to correctly direct thousands of boarding passengers into the correct lines based upon the status of government and health requirements, however, was entirely the fault of the Flynn Cruise Terminal and its staff.

The communication from HAL that changed boarding times at the last minute stated that a mandatory Coast Guard drill was the cause of the adjustment. That is probably true, but the Coast Guard didn’t prevent HAL from updating information on our virtual boarding passes or within the cruise line’s own app which they tout as an innovation in cruising convenience.

Neither was the Coast Guard responsible for inadequate staffing on the part of Massport, the government agency that runs land-side port operations.

Once we made it on board, the giddy relief of dropping our bags in our beautiful staterooms quickly eased the frustrations of the long morning day. Running the gauntlet of Boston’s cruise terminal was sufficiently exhausting that all of us—even the teens!—spent some part of our first afternoon aboard napping instead of exploring or reveling.

We were told in advance that we would board at 11:40; the port actually seemed to begin embarkation proceedings closer to 14:00 from our vantage amongst the crowds. My first photos from our cabin were taken at 15:45. We were scheduled to sail at 16:00. Nieuw Statendam actually cast off from its Boston mooring at 19:31.

port employees releasing ropes holding Nieuw Statendam to dockI think I’m being generous when I say we experienced a delay of at least three hours. For those who view lunch on the ship as the start of their vacation, our embarkation must have been particularly painful. It was certainly debilitating to those of us with health issues, and proved tiring even to young travelers.

Aside from mentioning that disembarkation three weeks later was similarly hideous—with poor communication again being the element for which HAL itself should be held fully accountable—I won’t go into detail for the latter fiasco. Suffice to say that I will still sail in or out of Boston because “not flying” remains on my list of “good to have” vacation characteristics, but I will always travel through this port carrying as little as possible to preserve my energy, and I will assume zero mobility assistance will be offered regardless of what’s legally mandated or promised.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend embarking on a cruise out of Boston’s port for anyone with severe mobility restrictions at this time unless that person can afford to travel with sufficient personal assistance to cover all boarding needs. I hope the situation will improve if staffing levels recover, but I wouldn’t bet a friend or loved one’s comfort on it personally.

Also, on the subject of advance communication, I think it is worth pointing out that Holland America Line mandated the wearing of masks indoors, when not eating or drinking, for all passengers as well as crew for the duration of our sailing. This was not announced in advance of embarkation, though it could have been. The captain announced the policy on board the ship, and reminders were broadcast by him and other officers once or twice a day over the public address system.Disposable surgical mask

Most destinations, and all excursions, appeared to have dropped all COVID prevention rules or requirements, though the majority of our fellow travelers opted to wear masks on the one tour bus we joined.

Our group enjoyed a much greater degree of relaxation and feelings of safety due to the enhanced precautions, but some cruisers felt deceived and complained bitterly about the unexpected need to mask. At least one Cruise Critic member in my Roll Call group bragged about “always carrying a drink” in order to intentionally and spitefully subvert the protocols as much as possible.

Most Nieuw Statendam passengers appeared to make a sincere effort to adhere to the mask rules, in our personal experience on the ship. We elected to exceed HAL’s requirements, and we all avoided catching COVID-19, testing negative on our own home tests multiple times during and after the journey. There were reports of viral spread on the ship, however, and visibility of guests in isolation increased over time.

We believe that it was possible for cruise passengers to make personal choices to increase the odds of avoiding getting sick, but that the mask mandate made it many times easier for cautious travelers to do than it would have been otherwise. For example, I would have felt far less comfortable without the face covering requirement when I squeezed onto any of the crowded ship’s tenders required to visit the smaller ports on which we called.

Our family felt fortunate that HAL mandated masks; other passengers felt cheated out of the freedom they thought they’d been promised on the same voyage. Continue reading

Bivalent COVID boosters are available & exciting

An article I read in the New York Times says that many Americans aren’t even noticing that the new, bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are now available. The public has lost interest in all things coronavirus, and the government is running out of funding for effective reminders or elaborate, coordinated delivery campaigns.

It falls to us, concerned citizens, to spread the word about how we can protect ourselves and others. In the interest of fighting misinformation, I will also share reputable resources for those wishing to do their own research.

The new boosters, authorized by the F.D.A. last month, are “bivalent” because they protect against:

  1. the Omicron subvariant still circulating in addition to
  2. the original version of the COVID-19 virus.

The Latin root bi– means two.

Merriam Webster dictionary page highlighting prefix definition of BI means TWOPut simply, a single shot now offers two kinds viral defense: more of the same protection from the original booster, plus, for the first time, the specific power to fight Omicron. That named strain of the virus, also known as lineage B.1.1.529, caused the enormous spike in coronavirus cases early in 2022. It’s estimated that the “mild” Omicron strain was responsible for killing 117,560 people in America. Source: MedRxiv.

More than one million Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. This virus has been far deadlier than any recent influenza outbreak. The worst annual flu statistics in the past decade saw 52,000 people die in the US, for comparison, while an average year sees  ≈34,000 flu deaths. Source: CDC.

Allow me to do the math for those who struggle with the subject: with COVID-19 having a major impact over the past three years, one million lost lives (1,000,000) averages out to roughly 333,000 American deaths in a single pandemic year. (1,000,000 ÷ 3 = 333,333 ¹⁄3) This means COVID kills 10× as many as an average annual flu does in the U.S.A.

  • 34,000 × 3 = 102,000 this is how many flu would probably have killed over three years
  • 102,000 × 10 = 1,020,000 this is how many flu would probably have killed if it were 10 times worse
  • 1,020,000 is close enough to one million to be considered the same for this kind of analysis

Flu vs. COVID death rate comparisons are usually the work of the innumerate… or liars.

It’s vaccination, not vaccines, that saves lives.

Personally, I’m with Zeynep Tufekci, whose opinion piece in the Times marveled at the awesomeness of vaccination’s potential… while exploring the inadequacy of current messaging to motivate our citizens.

Tukekci writes: “[I]t’s vaccination, not vaccines, that saves lives.”

And she’s right about that.

bandage on upper armThe most impressive technology can solve no problem if it isn’t deployed where it is needed and at the right time. Safe, modern, effective vaccine boosters against COVID are being provided at no cost by the U.S. government. Those shots are available today.

As of now, everyone over age 12 in America is entitled to a free bivalent booster shot as long as at least two months have passed since the most recent dose.

Boosters reduce your chance of catching Omicron, and they substantially reduce an infected person’s risk of being hospitalized with—or dying of—COVID-19. Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, CDC, United Kingdom Health Security Agency.

Boosters will also help you avoid long COVID. Source: JAMA.

Aside from spreading personal misery, long COVID is also costing our economy hundreds of billions of dollars, with just lost wages from the disease estimated between $170-230 billion annually. Note that this figure approaches 1% of the total U.S. gross domestic product. Sources: World Economic Forum, Brookings Institution, Federal Reserve Bank of MN

Getting vaccinated and boosted is a patriotic choice as doing so protects our faltering economy.

I was delighted to take my teen in for a bivalent booster dose this week. His previous shot was last winter, he attends classes in person while being the only kid in most rooms electing to mask, and our household includes a high risk loved one. A few hours with a sore arm and one long nap later, my child has no lingering side effects, but he can more safely spend time with his grandparent.

There’s no way to put a price on the value of those hours. COVID vaccines are a miracle, a blessing, and quite literally wonderful.

The rest of my family will be getting bivalent boosters soon, having had age- and risk-related doses more recently than a healthy teen.Redacted official CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

Opting in for your bivalent booster dose is choosing life over death, wellness over infirmity, civic engagement over cynicism, and family values over selfishness. Vaccination protects our society by safeguarding both individual health and overall economic function; sick people are less productive.

I’m fully vaccinated—and boosted—because I love America, and because my religion teaches that life is a sacred gift.

What’s your reason?

When life gives you foghorns, count your blessings?

There are realities in every life utterly beyond anyone’s control. Consider the foghorn.

Under certain weather conditions, a ship has an obligation to blast its foghorn at regular intervals. It does so to keep the seas safe for other vessels.

When one sits on a deck in the vicinity of said sonic safety device, the resulting report can be… distracting… to say the least.

It startles me enough to make me jump the first several times at least that I hear a foghorn during any given hour. It is sufficiently loud that my instinct is to clap my hands over my ears like a toddler would. I tend to let out a nervous giggle with every sonorous report. Conversation must stop.

While on vacation, at sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, we’ve encountered more than our fair share of fantastic conditions, but there have been plenty of overcast hours. As it happens, our favorite place to spend the non-wind-whipped ones has been a Retreat Cabana we reserved for our voyage. These amenities are situated on deck 12 of 14 of our temporary home-away-from-home.

From the sound of it, these otherwise luxurious rentals sit directly under the ship’s foghorn. Without a doubt, the source is nearer deck 12, forward, than our staterooms on deck 4, aft.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the frequency of the foghorn blasts was dictated by a ship’s speed or other specific conditions, but I know almost nothing about maritime rules. What I can say is that the foghorn sounds at an interval just long enough that one forgets it is coming, right up until it trumpets its way back into your ears and central nervous system.

My husband, it’s fair to say, is not a fan of the foghorn. He spends more time outdoors than I do, and he frequents the Cabana more often than I do. Thus far, he’s tried noise concealing headphones and foam earplugs to dull the noise and continue on with his work, but the distraction continues.

I’m absolutely sympathetic to the necessity and value of the foghorn, and all the other safety innovations that make a modern cruise safer than the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I hope this post comes across as something absolutely distinct from a compliant! That said, my heart kept stopping and my ears kept ringing on our foggy Cabana mornings, and I wasn’t sure that was optimal, either.

On about the third day that the foghorn menaced my peace of mind, I had an epiphany. It’s stentorian reverberations, after all, meant we continued on our way, all systems go, all of the important stuff quite right with our isolated little floating world.

I decided, with every foghorn blast, to adjust my reaction into counting my blessings.

Loud noises shut my eyes and often prompt me to clasp my hands at my heart. Why not follow that lead and take a moment in gratitude for the gift of safety, the ability to hear a warning offered with beneficent intentions, and the joy of my functional if reactive body?

I can’t say that the foghorn is my favorite aspect of traveling by sea, even so, but our relationship has improved.

I love the waves. I find the atmosphere and pace of cruising conducive to contemplation. I marvel every day aboard a ship at the luxury of having the time and funds to see the world this way.

And, now?

I hear the blast of a foghorn, and I’m reminded to count my blessings. They’re as myriad as the waves in the sea.

And, if occasionally obscured by the mist, my other faculties remain to offer clarity.

What’s a clarion blast if not a call to action?

What better action to take than finding the good in an inconvenience?

I still prefer a clear blue sky, but I’ll hearken to the value of the foghorn.