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COVID continues to disrupt travel for Rossmoorians

Excursion, club trips feel impact of omicron

By Rowena Gonden

Staff writer

(Tuesday, Jan. 18): That Mediterranean cruise will have to wait. And traveling to Italy is going to remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.

Even as Rossmoor begins offering group trips again, the seemingly never-ending pandemic continues putting the kibosh on some of those plans.

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined that we would not have an opportunity to travel,” said Excursions Coordinator Anna Pomazanova, who suspended all day outings and extended tours in April 2020.

Domestic travel resumed last fall, and Pomazanova notes that Rossmoor residents still can go on the overnight tours — 11 currently are on the calendar, including ones to Yosemite, Palm Springs and a cruise to Alaska — as long as the travel agencies planning them don’t pull the plug.

But after the GRF Board decided Jan. 7 to close all Rossmoor facilities through the end of the month to increase residents’ protection against omicron, the COVID-19 variant, she tightened the reins on those trips she organizes herself, even though the GRF’s move doesn’t have any direct bearing on travel.

Pomazanova canceled the bus ride portion of a Jan. 26 day trip to see an awards-winning musical in San Francisco — ticket holders still can go if they arrange their own transportation — and she nixed a Feb. 3 outing to the same venue altogether.

She also has decided not to team up with any travel agencies for trips abroad in 2022 — the first time in her 14 years at Rossmoor that the offerings haven’t included international travel.

“I’m sure some people are disappointed because they are older and might not have future opportunities to travel,” Pomazanova said.

But with COVID-19 — and now mutations of the virus — causing an ongoing flux in countries’ travel restrictions, Pomazanova doesn’t want to take even the slightest chance that residents won’t receive a refund if a trip is canceled.

More important, she’s not willing to risk them contracting the virus overseas.

“I would rather have them in the United States to make sure they receive the proper medical care that they deserve,” Pomazanova said.

COVID also appears to be dampening some residents’ enthusiasm for venturing beyond the retirement community’s front gates.

The Rossmoor charity City of Hope began offering day trips to casinos again in early December after safety concerns nixed the monthly outings for well over a year, but participation is a problem this time around.

Organizer Lynne Keefer had to cancel Monday’s scheduled trip to Red Hawk Casino in Placerville because only 20 signed up — half of the 40-person minimum the bus company requires. It was the first cancellation in the 20-plus years she’s been arranging the outings, said Keefer, who in the past not only regularly filled the bus to capacity with 56 passengers but often had a waiting list.

She also had trouble garnering riders on last month’s trip to Cache Creek Casino Resort; although 43 registered to go, there were a few no-shows “which put me in a real pickle,” the Rossmoor resident said.

As a result, Keefer says she probably won’t try another trip until March.

She blames COVID in part for the tepid response.

“I think it did (affect participation),” Keefer said, noting that people sometimes are reluctant to be with a group in close quarters even though American Stage Tours requires riders to wear masks and be fully vaccinated.

Keefer understands the wariness all too well, noting that her body’s ability to ward off infection was compromised when she had cancer. Still, she says she wants to revive the trips for those who’d been missing them.

But taking a break from slot machines and card tables for so long means that regulars who once had the jaunts squarely on their radar now have forgotten about them, she said.

And then there’s the Southern California cancer research and treatment center that the organization supports with a portion of its ticket revenue.

“There’s no money made for the City of Hope,” Keefer said.

Rossmoor Travel Club also has seen several COVID-related cancellations for the 16-day trip to Egypt that’s now scheduled for March — the tour operator scrubbed the adventure in 2020 and again in 2021 because of COVID, said club member and co-facilitator Katie Wills.

Although 16 signed up, three since have bowed out; if the headcount dips below 11, those who do get on the plane won’t receive the rebate that comes with a minimum headcount.

Wills thinks the change of heart is not only because the virus can pose a greater risk to seniors, but, as Pomazanova noted, it could land them in a hospital far from home.

“Nobody wants to be alone in some country where you don’t speak the language and you’re in the hospital sick with COVID,” Wills said.

On the bright side, however, she knows from firsthand experience that the tour operator is trustworthy.

“They feel it is safe (to travel) and would cancel if they needed to,” she said, noting that the company has contacts in Egypt who would alert it to any credible danger.

Moreover, every trip Overseas Adventure Travel has organized since August has been a go, Wills said.

The business requires both participants and every employee involved in one of its tours — bus drivers, boat pilots, tour guides — to have a booster shot, and it will help travelers get a COVID test the day before flying home.

“It’s kind of like hope for the best and plan for the worst,” Wills said. “I have a lot of confidence in this particular company.”

As for a safety net if Egypt still must be called off, “(it’s) knowing that if you’ve got travel insurance, you’ll be reimbursed for all the money you put out,” she said.