Home Travel A Prime Example Of Why Cruising In The U.S. Shouldn’t Start Yet

A Prime Example Of Why Cruising In The U.S. Shouldn’t Start Yet

by SharonKurheg

People who enjoy cruises – I mean who REALLY enjoy cruises – are chomping at the bit to start cruising again. As someone who has certain places and activities that she misses dearly, I totally understand that feeling. However, since I’m not willing to put myself at risk, on top of the possibility of passing coronacooties I don’t know I have onto anyone else, I’m willing to wait for as long as it takes to go back to my pre-COVID lifestyle.

The CDC has made it clear that new precautions and procedures need to be in place before any cruise ship leaves a U.S. dock in the age of COVID-19. They’re talking among themselves, as well as with the cruise companies, travel experts and even the general public (and boy, did they give the CDC an earful!) so the proper requirements can be planned, documented, explained and carried out. Cruise companies appear to understand that, as evidenced by their voluntarily delaying when they will cruise again (for example, Disney Cruise Line has already said they won’t start cruising until at least mid-December).

Things are different in Europe and Asia, where, among other hurdles, cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus are significantly lower than they are in the U.S. In fact, several cruise companies in those parts of the world are already sailing. Relatively large ships from MSC, Costa and TUI cruise lines, among others, have been sailing for the last few weeks to months, as have smaller ships from European Waterways, Paul Gauguin, and CroisiEurope Cruises.

I admittedly don’t keep track of European cruise ships or the rules they have to follow. But when I read that one of those European ships winds up with cases of coronavirus on board, it gets my attention. And that’s exactly what just happened, when it was reported in CruiseCritic that two passengers and five crew members on CroisiEurope’s Vasco de Gama river cruise ship recently tested positive for COVID-19.

CroisiEurope released the following statement:

“Two guests and five crew have tested positive on a CroisiEurope Cruises river cruise on the Douro.

“The passengers in question fell ill right at the end of the cruise (disembarkation day) and were immediately isolated and then taken to a local hospital where they tested positive (the day after disembarkation.)

“The strict protocols put in place by the company to allow safe sailing were adhered to at all times. All other passengers have been informed of the situation and advised to self-isolate and take a coronavirus test.

“All the crew were tested and the ship locked down for 10 days in agreement with the local Portuguese health authorities who were satisfied with the handling of this matter. The five crew who tested positively are in self isolation and are currently fit and well.”
Based on CroisiEurope’s web page for cruises on the Douro, the cruise in question was either a 6- or 8-day voyage. That means chances are good everyone with the virus had it before they boarded the ship, or passed it on to others, whose symptoms started quickly.
One might wonder how that could happen – weren’t they tested beforehand? As it turned out, nope.
According to CroisiEurope’s website, potential passengers get a questionnaire before their cruise to make sure they’re not sick and haven’t been in contact with anyone who was. Except we all know that people who have the virus and show no symptoms can still spread it to others. So they could have been exposed and never know it.
Passengers’ temperatures were taken before they boarded but again, you can have the virus and have no fever.
CroisiEurope had new health protocols in place, including a lack of a buffet, meals split into two times so there was more social distancing, the availability of masks, hand sanitizers and globes upon request, and the encouragement to use masks on shore excursions. However, we all know that “encouraging” safe behaviors and ensuring people take part in said behaviors are two entirely different things. And now they have 7 people with COVID-19, one of which had to be hospitalized.
This is exactly why the CDC wants to make sure that every precaution is in place before they give the OK for ships to sail out of the U.S. There are just so many things to think about:
  • Assuming that testing will need to be done to ensure no one has the virus before they board the ship, how far ahead of time will it need to be done? After all, you can be tested on a Monday and be exposed to the virus on Tuesday. Plus not everywhere has guaranteed 48-hour or 72-hour testing available, so then what? And is testing that’s 93% accurate “good enough?” What about those 7 people who get false negatives? Do the cruise lines really want them on their ships? How will they cull them out?
  • “Encouraging” mask use on shore excursions is playing with fire. How will the cruise ships know that passengers actually did wear their masks and socially distanced themselves, especially when you have some people who are so vehemently anti-mask?
  • Cruise lines have tried to eradicate norovirus on ships for years; all that takes is washing your hands after you go to the bathroom. Despite signage, announcements and hand sanitizer virtually everywhere, there are multiple outbreaks on cruise ships every year. If cruise lines can’t get people to wash their hands after they use the toilet to avoid an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness, how are they going to ensure passengers consistently take proper precautions to protect everyone on board when a certain percent of them think this worldwide pandemic is nothing more than an overhyped myth that was conjured up so Donald Trump will lose the 2020 presidential election, and it’s their God-given Constitutional right to not have to wear a mask?

And that’s just off the top of my head.

There are some cruise fans who say that since airlines can fly and restaurants can open, cruise ships should be able to sail. They claim they’d be willing to take the chance on cruising, if they could just cruise again. I think those people have little understanding of how the 2019 Novel Coronavirus works and spreads. Is it worth going on a cruise if it means you could die? What if you don’t die but have lingering heart, muscle or brain problems? What if you give it to a loved one and they die? I understand their love for cruising, but is one cruise worth all that?

Meanwhile, according to an official statement, Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both from Florida, introduced the Set Sail Safely Act on September 17th, in coordination with a Private Sector Advisory Committee to establish a Maritime Task Force. The task force would include representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of State and the Federal Maritime Commission.

The goal of the task force is to address the changes needed to allow cruise lines to resume operations. I thought that’s what cruise lines were already doing in conjunction with the CDC, but maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, the CDC is wise to not let cruises in the U.S. sail until everything has been taken into consideration, including whatever cruise lines and this potential task force come up with. A cruise, even one that’s just a few days long, is not the same as an airline flight or going to a restaurant; it means being with the same people, potentially in closer quarters than they should and perhaps with improper mask use, for days on end. When you’re talking about a virus that’s highly contagious and potentially deadly, cruise lines need to have all their ducks in a row before sailing again, whether passengers like it or not.

Feature Photo: CroisiEurope

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

AlohaDaveKennedy September 18, 2020 - 6:29 am

I think your use of the term “coronacooties” is telling. COVID-19 is not some grade-school made-up disease. Nor are masks your best option to prevent COVID-19. Masks cannot protect 24 by 7 against a disease that is relentless. Social distancing is your best option to avoid the disease by avoiding proximity to suspended particles. Practicing social distancing 24 by 7 is like running a firewall and antivirus software. Witness that indoors dining in restaurants and family/friends gatherings are now the leading cause for COVID-19 infection.

Statistically insignificant is any COVID-19 spread by “a certain percent of people who think this worldwide pandemic is nothing more than an overhyped myth…and it’s their God-given Constitutional right to not have to wear a mask.” That is a political red herring – any such people cannot spread the disease if social distancing is observed. That said, it is irrational to blame Trump for all COVID-19 deaths, as Biden has done, when his party has encouraged so many events where social distancing was ignored (BLM protests, etc.).

All it takes to bring COVID-19 aboard ship is one passenger or crew member who is knowingly or unknowingly sick. Tight crew quarters prevent social distancing for crew members. Various ship bottleneck points, like elevators, boarding platforms, and lifeboat muster stations prevent social distancing by passengers. Travel aboard cruise ship will long remain a risk without adequate remediation. Some cruisers will accept the risk, but many will not. Only an effective vaccine, not masks, can replace social distancing as a shield against COVID-19. That said I have no problem using masks and have worn then for over 30 years to help with allergies and asthma, but I will not cruise until there is an effective vaccine.

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