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In early December, I traveled to Mexico for a vacation. Despite the fear of being exposed to COVID-19 while traveling, I knew I was vaccinated and had high-quality masks, and airlines and airports required masks. I knew that, while there, most of my meals would be outside, lessening exposure chances. I wasn’t sure what I would find in terms of everyday occurrences there.

Here’s what I found while traveling.

Airports and planes had very good compliance with mask wearing, and hand disinfection was made available. I saw no ruckus about mask wearing.

Once in Mexico, every single service-related person I encountered was masked — taxi drivers, convenience store employees, vendors hawking their goods on the street, waiters, chefs, registration desk staff, maids, even those people working outside doing landscape or yard work.

Every business I encountered required a mask. Some also took your temperature when entering and had you step onto a disinfectant pad before entering the store. Hand disinfection was everywhere. Customers were incredibly compliant with mask wearing inside public buildings.

The day before my return, I had to take a COVID-19 rapid test and be negative before boarding a plane. I had a test at a local hospital. The facility was modern and the staff was efficient and professional (and, thankfully, bilingual). My results were emailed to me that afternoon. Once on the plane, at least I knew this — everyone I flew back with had tested negative the day before and was wearing a mask.

However, on my connector flight from Atlanta to Charleston, that would not be the case, as there is no similar testing requirement inside the United States. Canadians who were flying direct flights back to Canada had stricter provisions — a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, -grade laboratory test within three days of leaving and another when they got back. If their connector was through the United States, they had to meet both requirements.

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Let me contrast some of this with what I encountered when I returned.

Practically no one here in a service position was wearing a mask (although the recent upswing in cases has changed that somewhat) and almost no customer in a grocery store or other store was wearing a mask. I also noticed that hand disinfection disappeared from some public places. The Christmas and New Year holidays were in full swing, and so was COVID-19.

I have been largely masked in my indoor activities, when not in the company of small groups of people that I know are vaccinated. I have avoided large groups. As I live alone, I don’t have others traipsing in and out of my home. I write this with a banging headache, lethargy, nasal congestion, etc., and I popped a positive on an at-home COVID-19 test. A PCR test has confirmed it. At 20 days after returning, I am certain I did not bring this home with me (maximum incubation time normally considered to be 14 days).

I do not know whether the safety precautions being taken in Mexico are because of government gumption or through good commonsense in the furtherance of health and commerce by a majority of the population and businesses, but we obviously have neither here in West Virginia.

I have no doubt that I was better protected from COVID-19 transmission in another country — considered by some a Third World country — that is employing incredibly basic public health measures. Let that sink in.

West Virginia can do better.

Gary Thompson lives in Charleston.

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