As the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the world, established health and safety protocols for cruise ships are put to the test. In two weeks in late July and early August, 27 coronavirus infections were identified aboard the Carnival Vista cruise ship leaving Galveston, Texas.
One of those infected, a passenger, later died.
It was the highest number of shipboard cases reported since June, when cruises in the Caribbean and the United States resumed, and the first death.
The passenger and 26 crew members were immediately isolated after testing positive for the virus. Contact tracing and further testing was carried out with no new cases reported on Aug. 11, when the ship arrived at the port of Belize City on the northeast coast of Central America, Carnival said.
Although the ship left Texas, which prohibits companies from requiring vaccinations, more than 96% of passengers have been vaccinated and all crew members except one have been fully vaccinated, according to the tourism office of the Belize.
Most of the infected crew members were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms of the virus, but Marilyn Tackett, a 77-year-old passenger from Oklahoma, was admitted to Belize hospital and put on a ventilator afterwards. have experienced respiratory complications. A few days later, she was evacuated to a hospital in Tulsa where she was treated, but on August 14 her condition worsened and she died, according to a statement posted by her family on a crowdfunding page created. to help pay for care.
Ms Tackett’s family declined to comment on the incident.
“We are very sorry to learn of the passing of a guest who sailed Carnival Vista,” Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement. The cruise line said it was highly unlikely Ms Tackett contracted the coronavirus on board the ship, which left Galveston on July 31, and that she received specialist medical treatment on board before being evacuated .
The cruise line did not test the vaccinated passengers before they boarded the cruise.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new advisory, warning people at increased risk for serious illness from Covid-19 to avoid traveling on cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status.
Carnival isn’t the only cruise line to see an increase in cases. Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean had six guests tested positive aboard its Adventure of the Seas ship.
Airlines have responded to the recent increase in cases by introducing pre-departure testing requirements for all passengers. Carnival also added a mask warrant on August 7 for all vaccinated and unvaccinated guests in indoor areas and banned smoking in the casino.
“The protocols are designed to adapt and adapt,” Chris Chiames, communications director for Carnival Cruise Line, said in a telephone interview. “This is what they have done here as part of their drive to mitigate and minimize the threat of Covid, which is everywhere, unfortunately, and will stay everywhere for a long time.”
“We never suggested that our ships would be without Covid,” he continued. “But we have designed our protocols to meet and exceed CDC guidelines and we will continue to be vigilant while continuing to focus on giving our guests a great vacation.”
Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean, said the cruise line typically sees one or two positive cases out of more than 1,000 guests per week per ship. More than 90 percent of passengers are vaccinated, he said, and due to pre-board testing requirements, two to 10 guests are barred from boarding ships each week because they are positive.
But, Mr. Bayley said in a candid Facebook post discussing the current coronavirus situation, “The test captures the status at any given point in time and if the guest is incubating an infection then the test will fail. ” Vaccinated guests who test positive are usually asymptomatic, he said in the post.
Some cruise lines say passengers have canceled due to concerns about the risks of the Delta variant, but many crossings are fully booked for the rest of the year due to pent-up demand.
Many cruise enthusiasts with upcoming trips believe cruise ships are one of the safest ways to travel during the pandemic due to the high percentage of passengers and crew vaccinated, additional testing requirements, and strict health and safety measures applied on board.
“It’s very heartwarming to get on a cruise ship knowing that most people are vaccinated and everyone is tested,” said Aidan Alexander, 62, a cruise enthusiast from Florida who has booked eight. crossings until 2022. “When you get on a plane or stay in a hotel you don’t know anyone’s vaccination or Covid status and that makes it very difficult to relax and unwind.”
John Ioannidis, professor of epidemiology at Stanford University, disputes this notion. In an airport, on an airplane or in a hotel, he said, “you are only exposed for a few hours, whereas on a cruise ship you could be exposed for several days and weeks. It’s sort of a cumulative exposure.
But he said the health and safety protocols implemented by cruise lines would likely prevent the disasters and major deaths that were seen during the early stages of the pandemic last year.
“I think it is fair to say that it is likely that epidemics will not develop to the same extent as during the epidemics of the first wave of the pandemic,” he said.
Christina Perez, 56, a passenger who was aboard the Carnival Vista when the virus cases were identified earlier this month, said the cruise line had handled the situation well and felt safe throughout its journey.
“It was still an incredible vacation. The crew took great care of us and kept us informed and managed to contain the situation very quickly, ”Ms. Perez said in a telephone interview.
“I think it’s getting more and more risky to travel now with the new variants, even on a cruise, but at least if there’s an outbreak on a cruise ship, there’s a plan and you know you’ll be taken care of, ”she said.
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