While the world hasn't truly entered the post-pandemic era just yet, it certainly feels as though there's been a shift in our collective consciousness over the past couple of months, since fears about the Omicron variant's impact seem to have subsided.
Across the United States, mask mandates have been dropped, and many foreign countries have either eased or eliminated their entry restrictions in fairly quick succession. These policy changes, in themselves, seem to have turned the tide of public opinion about the relative safety of traveling abroad.
Since then, the U.S. government has come under criticism for continuing to require that international travelers supply a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their flight to enter or re-enter the country.
Then, a few weeks ago, when a U.S. district court judge struck down the federal mask mandate on public transportation, causing the TSA to quit enforcing its masking rules, it suddenly felt like all bets were off.
Shortly thereafter, I took my first flight of what I'm calling the 'Neo-Maskless Era' to attend an event in Punta Cana. I'm double-jabbed, but not boostered, and I wasn't sure just how strict I might need to be with personal health precautions. But, I'll admit to hopping on the bandwagon to some degree in terms of letting my individual guard down.
Still, I was somewhat surprised at the percentage of my fellow flyers who had abandoned masking protocol at the airport and on the plane itself, now that it was merely "suggested" rather than mandated. I, personally, wore my mask the entire time, not being entirely sure how I felt about the situation.
Once I arrived at my destination, however, I felt more at ease, somehow. I think it was mainly because, being vaccinated myself, even if I came down with COVID-19, it shouldn't send me to the hospital. Plus, I remembered reading that virtually 100 percent of hospitality workers in the Dominican Republic (DR) were also fully vaccinated.
Yes, the customer-facing staff at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Casino & Resort Punta Cana, where I was staying, were all still wearing masks; and hand-sanitizer dispensers were plentiful, but guests had pretty clearly gotten lax about social distancing.
And, given just how many people there were already vacationing at the resort, even ahead of the peak summer season, it would've been pretty difficult to maintain physical distancing at all times. Since people come to these resorts largely to enjoy outdoor activities (e.g., the beach, swimming pools, waterpark, etc.), you're probably going to spend a lot of time in the open air anyway.
Maybe, if I'd done some further reading on the destination, I would've known to expect rather a high visitor volume, given that Paola Raineri of the hospitality giant Puntacana Group weeks ago declared that tourism levels in the DR had completely recovered from the effects of the pandemic.
Even back in early March, TravelPulse had reported on the astonishing volume of tourists flocking to the DR, which was already far outpacing other Caribbean and Central American destinations. Sixty percent of those visitors, at the time, were coming from North America, and nearly 80 percent of them were staying right in Punta Cana.
The country's popularity, at least following the reduction of its entry requirements in September 2021, was aided by the fact that the DR didn't have many travel restrictions. Tourists don't need to prove they're fully vaccinated, undergo quarantine, confine themselves to "resort bubbles" or provide proof of travel health insurance. It became even easier to visit as of May 1, when Dominican officials removed the requirement that foreign arrivals present a negative COVID-19 test.
Despite finding myself in closer proximity to throngs of people than I've been in over two years (an odd feeling, I'll grant you), I got over my unease quite quickly. Maybe it's just the profound desire we all have to return to "normal" that convinced me to just go with the flow, but it was at least partially because I felt confident that the resort was continuing its 'Safe + Sound' hygiene protocols, and that a lot of other people were likely vaccinated (which could, admittedly, have just been wishful thinking), including resort employees.
Still, I tested negative the day prior to my departure for the U.S., which was a pretty easy process, since the resort has a testing facility set up right in-house. Due to demand, you do need to make an appointment with the concierge to get your test performed, but it was easy enough to book one same-day.
And, at Hard Rock Punta Cana, two complimentary antigen tests are included per room on reservations of three or more nights that are booked by June 30 for stays through December 31, 2022. Fill out an online form, sit for a quick nasal swab and get your results very quickly via email as a downloadable PDF, which you can then upload where needed.
Current Travel Requirements
Right now, all that's needed in order for international travelers to board a DR-bound flight is to complete and submit an electronic travel authorization application (called an E-Ticket), which combines together a customs declaration, contact-tracing form and health affidavit. Upon approval, the portal will generate a QR code that needs to be presented upon arrival.
My own experience would suggest that it's best to fill this out and receive your approval code ahead of time, since, even in this age of unprecedented connectivity, you can't entirely count on your own mobile data plan or public Wi-Fi to be either speedy or reliable once you've already arrived at the airport for departure.
Depending upon which airline you're flying, you may be able to bypass this step by using the secure VeriFLY app, which automatically sends your health credentials (including your COVID-19 test for U.S. reentry) to the airline and border authorities. VeriFLY streamlines the whole process and provides valuable peace of mind by presenting your destination's travel requirements and helping you upload all the necessary documents before checking in at the airport.
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