Jonathan Kline - perceptions of the Covid-19 pandemic in the USA and MIQ in New Zealand

14 Sep 2021

Covid-19 has changed many lives, created uncertainty and has consistently kept the country on edge. The best laid plans are often just that with no real certainty that they will ever come to fruition.  

Mercury Bay Boating Club commodore, Jonathan Kline, has experienced first-hand the curve ball the Covid-19 pandemic can throw at times. His recent journey, which included escorting his 92-year-old mother, Paula, back to her home in Broward County, South Florida allowed him to witness and experience first-hand, the way authorities in the USA are dealing with the Delta outbreak and the division created among communities like Broward County. On his return to New Zealand, he was also able to experience the country’s MIQ facilities and what it was like to be confined in a small hotel room, alone for 14 days.  

It all makes for an interesting story and one Jonathan has allowed the Informer to share with our readers.   

Paula arrived in New Zealand in 2019 for a planned four-month stay and to spend Christmas with Jonathan’s family. Due to the global pandemic, she ended up being able to extend her visa multiple times. The initial four-month stay had become 19 months by the time she would board a plane back to the USA. “At 92, she could not travel alone and because I had to get back to America to renew several professional sailing licenses, I opted to combine this work trip with the important business of getting my mum home safe and sound” says Jonathan. 

Both Jonathan and Paula were fortunate to have been vaccinated with both Pfizer shots in Whitianga before departure. “Being vaccinated was not a requirement for travel and no one asked to see my vaccination card,” says Jonathan. “A negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel, a signed declaration for entry into the US and an online questionnaire to transit LAX were all that was required. Once in the US, no paperwork was required, but being fully masked at all times in airports and on all flights was mandatory. 

“And thank goodness we were vaccinated. In the days leading up to our departure, the Delta variant was spreading rapidly in the southeast, especially Broward County where my mum lives. It was in fact leading the nation in new coronavirus cases with well over 20,000 new cases every 14 days with 99 percent of those taking up a hospital bed being unvaccinated. Lack of supply of the vaccine was not the reason for around only half the population of Broward County being vaccinated either. It was mainly more a case of mistrust, disinformation and a genuine anti-vax ideology. Not helping was the county being in full summer with outdoor temperatures soaring and much of the population spending more time indoors, which contributed to the rapid spread of the Delta variant.” 

Schools were on summer break at the time, but the maritime academy Jonathan attended remained open which allowed him to renew his sailing licenses. “This particular school was exceptionally good with signage, hygiene and within a week of my arrival, mandatory face covering indoors,” he says. “Class sizes were manageable so decent social distancing was possible. Desks, bridge simulation equipment, firefighting gear and lifesaving appliances were all wiped down regularly. You brought your own pencils.” 

Outside of class, restaurants and bars remained open and there were plenty of outdoor eating and socialising options. But Jonathan was consumed with an overwhelming paranoia about too much socialising and the potential of contracting the virus regardless of the fact he had been vaccinated. While the vaccination would protect him from serious illness, a positive result could potentially mean a cancelled flight home and even worse, missing his booked MIQ spot leaving no clear timelines on when he would get back home to his wife and two children in Whitianga.  

In total Jonathan was in Florida and also in Newport, Rhode Island for five weeks during which time he underwent four voluntary Covid tests, including the all-important final test prior to boarding the flight back to Los Angeles, where he connected on to New Zealand. 

“While I was in Florida, the Delta variant surged and division continued within the community and across the US,” Jonathan said. “Opinions raged and were heavily debated on topics such as vaccinations being mandated, there being a deep state plot and should masks be mandated for school children about to return to classes. Florida made multiple headlines when the governor of the state stipulated that masks could not be mandated for school children while school boards insisted that masks be worn. School boards met, parents attended. There were shouting and fist fights. The governor threatened to cancel funding for schools that mandated masks.” 

Thankfully life was pretty normal in Jonathan’s small circle. He wore masks pretty much everywhere, including before and after eating at restaurants. In Newport he sailed competitively and was able to socialise outside unmasked. Sanitising and washing his hands frequently became his golden rule.  

At about the same time Broward County was recording 20,000 new cases every two weeks, the first positive Delta case was recorded in New Zealand, quickly followed by the recent Alert Level 4 lockdown. “When I landed at Auckland International Airport, I stepped straight into a scene from the movie “Outbreak,” says Jonathan. “Fully gowned and masked airport staff with face shields moved us through the various steps of entry which included initial medical evaluation, immigration and customs. We were not allowed to collect our bags as these were removed for us and placed elsewhere. Everyone was masked and kept apart. It was at this point that I started to think about how difficult it was to read someone’s mood or show my mood while masked. Smiles and frowns are not visible. I guess we all have to learn to smile with our eyes when wearing a face mask.” 

Much to his disappointment, Jonathan was told to proceed to another large waiting room where he would eventually be ticketed for his next flight to Christchurch. It was a bit of a blow to come all that way and then have to travel to the South Island to quarantine. Of course with hindsight and with Delta cases climbing in Auckland, he would soon feel differently about the requirement to board yet another plane.  

“All but six of the passengers on the flight from LA were on the flight to Christchurch,” says Jonathan. “There were many solo travellers and quite a few couples, some with young children. I wished I could have learned a bit more about their stories, but we were about to enter managed isolation. Everyone was presumed to be a carrier and therefore idle conversation was not encouraged. I was struck by one single dad with a bright bubbly little girl. How did he find himself here?  How would the two of them cope with the next 14 days? 

“When we landed in Christchurch our orientation began. Everything ratcheted up a notch. Jovial and light-hearted disappeared. Our handlers became more serious - always polite, but more serious. A senior officer from the New Zealand Defence Force boarded the aircraft and gave us instructions. We would disembark in small groups, our bags would be inside the terminal for identification and collection, we would be assigned a bus and then we would be taken to our hotel. This process had taken a very long time, we were all tired and feeling washed out and I was empathising with the families with young children. We were told that we would be swabbed and that we would not be allowed out of our rooms until all the swab tests had been received back. 

“My room was small, but comfortable. I had a queen bed, a desk, a small table, two chairs, a fridge, a coffee/tea area, an ensuite and enough room for me to lie down and do some exercises. There was a large window that looked out on to a small grassy area. The windows did not open and there was no way to access this grassy area, but at least I could see it. Birds would feed in the grass and dig through mulch. If I sat perfectly still, they ignored me and in a strange way I enjoyed their company.”  

Those who were given blue bands indicating negative test results and no symptoms were allowed out twice per day for at least two hours each time. The outdoor area consisted of a portion of a parking lot and one of the grassed courtyard areas of the hotel. Jogging was not allowed, nor was any kind of interactive outdoor games which left walking around the perimeter, which Jonathan had pegged down to 467 steps, as being the only option.  

Jonathan had no complaints about the food which arrived in a brown paper bag. “I was pleased to see mostly eco packaging with paper, cardboard and only plastic for the lids,” he said. “My best meal was on Father’s Day because I received a bouquet of flowers from my family.  I decided to lay a formal table, by the window.” 

Jonathan kept to a strict schedule and that helped the time pass. Up early to watch the sky change colours, a 7:00am chat with the kids, some computer time, a workout, lunch and a walk outside. The afternoons consisted of some reading, catching up on the news, some wine, dinner and finishing the day with some TV time or movie.  

“I struggled a little with MIQ at first, but then I simply tuned in to the news around me and that provided for some reflection and gratefulness,” says Jonathan. “So, as much as I would have preferred to be somewhere else, I really could not complain about where I was, given some of the other circumstances that prevailed here in New Zealand and in other parts of the world. In addition to being grateful for my circumstances, I was also thankful for the efforts of the seemingly dozens of people responsible for my care. There are so many staff that allow MIQ to function. There are many arguments out there - whether we should abandon MIQ and lockdowns and let Covid-19 take its course or whether the tactic of containing and stamping out is feasible. I don’t pretend to know the answer but I do know that those working at the borders and in our MIQ facilities are doing an incredible job, with a fantastic attitude.”

Pictured: Mercury Bay Boating Club commodore, Jonathan Kline, during his recent stint in MIQ after returning to New Zealand from the USA.