The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will require cruise lines sailing from U.S ports to continue to follow the CDC’s protocols for COVID-19 on ships subject to its jurisdiction through January 15, 2022. The agency’s conditional sailing order (CSO) was set to expire this weekend, on November 1, 2021, but was just extended to January 15, 2022. After January 15th, if the CDC does not again extend the CSO, cruise lines will be permitted to voluntary follow their own policies to detect and control the spread of COVID-19 on their ships.
The CDC stated that when cruise lines began resuming “revenue voyages” from the U.S. in the last four months, between June 26 – October 21, 2021, there were 1,359 laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 on cruise ships reported to the CDC. You can read the order (total at page 20) here.
COVID-19 Remains A Problem on Cruise Ships Despite High Vaccination Rates
The resumption of cruises in the U.S. has led to the “introduction and sustained transmission of COVID-19” among cruise ships, despite high vaccination rates among both crew and passengers.
According to @CDCgov‘s extension of conditional sailing order #cruise ships subject to CDC jurisdiction experienced total of 1,357 confirmed +#COVID19 cases involving pax & crew including 3 ships with total of 275 positive virus cases over multiple cruises https://t.co/aw9HbsWpQ0 pic.twitter.com/HZIxgvpPly
— James (Jim) Walker (@CruiseLaw) October 27, 2021
It does not appear that COVID-19 cases where guests disembarked the cruise ship and then tested positive were included in this total, even where the guest was exposed to COVID-19 during the cruise and likely contracted the disease there.
The CDC did not state any details regarding COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships sailing from U.S. waters. For example, the federal health agency did not disclose the name of a single cruise line or cruise ship whatsoever.
Cruise Passengers Remain in the Dark
Cruise lines, of course, never disclose to the public when their guests or crew members are infected, unless there is information first released by the media. Foreign health agencies sometimes publish news article about outbreaks. The health department in Belize, for example, disclosed the number of infected crew members following a significant COVID-19 outbreak on the Carnival Vista earlier this summer.
— James (Jim) Walker (@CruiseLaw) August 15, 2021
Cruise lines like Carnival will never disclose when a passenger dies due to COVID-10. Nor will the cruise lines admit when there are repeated virus outbreaks on consecutive cruises.
A Slew of Large COVID-19 Outbreaks
The CDC, in its order extending the conditional sailing order until next year, highlighted what it described as “several large outbreaks” on cruise ships:
- 21 infected – on July 24, 2021, one symptomatic passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 on a cruise ship (Cruise Ship A) was epidemiologically linked to 20 additional COVID-19 cases over two voyages, including 2 passengers and 18 crew.
- 58 infected – between July 24 – August 28, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship B) reported 58 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew.
- 13 infected – between July 29 – 31, 2021, three symptomatic passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on a cruise ship (Cruise Ship C). Contact tracing and testing identified an additional 12 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 10 passengers and 2 crew.
- 7 infected – between July 26 – August 6, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship D) reported 7 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew.
- 105 infected – between August 19 – September 7, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship E) reported 105 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew on a total of four consecutive voyages.
- 112 infected – between August 21 – September 7, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship F) reported a total of 112 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew on four consecutive voyages
Other than a brief mention of the above referenced 315 COVID-19 cases, the CDC did not mention any of the other over 1,000 positive COVID-19 shipboard cases.
Most Positive Virus Case Involve “Breakthrough Infections” of Vaccinated Passengers and Crew
The COVID-19 vaccination rates on all of these unnamed ships were at or very near to 100% for crew and between 96.4% and 100% for passengers. Some of the cases apparently involved unvaccinated children, but the majority involve fully vaccinated adults.
Dozens of Medevacs and Hospitalizations Involving Cruise Ship Guests & Crew Due to COVID-19
The CDC also mentioned that cruise lines reported that the COVID-19 cases resulted in a number of hospitalizations (49) and medical evacuations from the ships (28).
Other than one passing reference to the death of a passengers who died of COVID-19, the CDC did not mention how many passengers and crew members on ships sailing into U.S. waters have died due to COVID-19. This summer we reported on at least recent one crew member and one guest who sailed on Carnival ships who died from the dangerous virus.
We have reported on cruise passengers who have required life-saving emergency medical treatment when developing COVID-19 symptoms while cruising. Usually the source of our information is the foreign press. See for example – Cruise Passenger in “Bad Shape” in Hospital in Belize.
The MSC Virtuosa – An Example of a Cruise Ship Not Subject to the CDC
There were several deaths of guests on the MSC Virtuosa, sailing this summer from the U.K., in a series of consecutive cruises where over at least 200 passengers and over 50 crew members were infected. MSC Cruises reportedly overcrowded this new cruise ship and did not enforce mask protocls and social distancing procedures.
The MSC Virtuosa was not under the jurisdiction of the CDC because it did not sail from U.S. ports or in U.S. waters during these cruises. It is a good example of what would happen if the U.S. federal health agency does not oversee the health and safety of foreign flagged cruise ships and cruise lines become free to ignore their own mask and social distancing protocols.
How Do Consumers Make Informed Decisions Regarding the Risk of Infection on a Particular Cruise Ship When Neither the Cruise Line Nor the CDC are Being Transparent?
A follower of our Cruise Law News Facebook page left the following comment:
“I do wish there was more transparency. I would like to know, for each cruise taken, how many people were on board, if there were any cases and how many, and what was the vaccination rate. Then people can make their own assessment of the risk. For some people these cases seem to be an acceptable amount but not for others.”
There are significan differences between Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and NCL regarding their COVID-19 protocols and their general attitudes toward the health and safety of their guests and crew. But, currently, it is not possible to calculate the per capita rate of contracting COVID-19 on one ship or one cruise brand versus another. This is largely because cruise line go out of their way to conceal the true information when a COVID-19 outbreak occurs on their ships.
I would suggest that, as a general matter, taking a voluntary leisure cruise during a deadly pandemic remains dangerous and foolhardy.
But for those looking to minimize the risk of contracting this disease, here are a few recomendation I have to offer:
- Become vaccinated (and learn which vaccines have the highest efficacy rates);
- Observe all CDC masking and social distancing protocols;
- Avoid cruise lines and cruise ships which operate at full or high capacity;
- Avoid cruise ships that have not upgraded their ventilation and air conditioning systems and installed high quality HEPA filters;
- Avoid internal cabins without balconies (book only cabins with balconies);
- Avoid cruise ships which allow unvaccinated passengers (including children) aboard;
- Avoid iteneraries which call on ports of call with low vaccination rates;
- Avoid cruise lines (like Carnival Cruise Line) with a history of guests mocking people who wear masks (for example, read Carnival Panorama: The Latest “Fun” Ship With COVID-19 Aboard).
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Image credit: Top – Carnival Vista – Gordon Leggett / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia via “Carnival Cruise Line Admits Positive COVID-19 Cases Aboard Carnival Vista, But Refuses to State Number of Guests Infected;” middle – Carnival Vista – Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images via CNN; bottom – MSC Virtuosa – Phil Nash Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 & GFDLViews.