As much as airlines, hotels, etc. have suffered due to COVID, the cruise industry has also lost a ton of money. And whereas the former two have had at least some passengers and guests, the cruise industry is still at a standstill due to the CDC’s “no sail order” that was put into place early on in the pandemic.
The CDC has had no intention of lifting the order until cruise lines put appropriate and approved COVID protocols into place. So some months ago, representatives from Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings officials, along with a host of nearly a dozen medical and scientific experts, assembled the Healthy Sail Panel.
The panel has been working to establish ways all cruise lines can mitigate coronavirus and on September 21, they submitted their recommended guidelines to the CDC.
“For those who are anxious to get back to sailing, and there are millions who are, this is a very important milestone on that pathway,” said the panel’s co-chair, Michael Leavitt. Leavitt is a three-term governor of Utah and was the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the George W. Bush administration.
The 65-page report includes 74 detailed best practices to protect the health and safety of guests and crew, along with that of the communities who depend on cruise ship arrivals. Not surprisingly, mandatory testing, the use of facial coverings and enhanced sanitation procedures are all included in the report.
A summary of the recommendations include:
- Health: Testing, screening & exposure reduction (i.e. assessing the health status of passengers and crew, protective measures for them, and physical distancing)
- Sanitation & ventilation
- Response, contingency planning & execution (i.e. onboard medical capabilities, case management, evacuation scenarios)
- Destination & excursion planning
- Mitigating risks for crew members (i.e. prevention, training & culture)
And here’s a video about the recommendations:
My take on the recommendations:
Joe and I don’t cruise a whole lot, but we were planning on sailing on Virgin Voyage’s Scarlet Lady this past July. Of course, that was canceled but they offered to rebook us for next year, so we have that on the books. So we do have some personal investment in whatever the COVID rules are, whenever the CDC finally lifts the No Sail order.
That being said, and having read through their recommendations, I do have to say that #1, they were complete! Pretty much everything one could think of was covered – I like that!
I also like that they’re realistic and honest. i.e. temperature checks:
The Panel expects temperature screening to be of limited value in identifying individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infections as well, since many infected individuals have no fever, or have a transient fever. Nonetheless, the Panel supports the use of temperature screening as it is a simple, quick, and low-cost step that can be taken as part of an overall strategy to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship. It is also another demonstration to guests that all reasonable measures are being taken to limit the chance the virus will come aboard since presence of a fever could indicate a SARS-CoV-2 infection or infection with another contagious pathogen.
Read: We know that temperature checks don’t do a whole lot of good but it’ll help a little, and it makes us look good 😉
Improve testing as it becomes available:
As discussed throughout this document, testing for all individuals boarding cruise ships is a critically important step in reducing the likelihood of virus introduction on board the ship. All guests and short-term vendors, contractors, startup employees, and shoreside employees boarding a cruise ship should be tested 24 hours to 5 days before the cruise, so that they are able to receive a negative result prior to beginning their travel via land or air transportation to the port for embarkation. If a guest receives a positive result, they and their close contacts should not travel to the embarkation point.
As discussed in the crew testing recommendation, if rapid, reliable, and clinically valid testing options become widely available, the addition of a second test at the pier or immediately before boarding would improve confidence in the testing regimen’s ability to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering the ship.
And mask use:
Consumer insight surveys conducted by the cruise industry show that some guests are unwilling to cruise if face coverings are required, while other consumers are unwilling to cruise if face masks are not required. The limited experience this summer aboard European cruises has revealed that a significant portion of guests wear face masks in public areas, even when they are not mandated. Therefore, in the interest of limiting potential spread of virus, the Panel recommends that face coverings are a simple and effective strategy that should be employed. The Panel recognizes that as disease prevalence goes down, face covering requirements may be loosened over time based on the latest available scientific data, public health agency recommendations, and risk modeling. However,in the initial period of sailing, they are an important tool that should be regularly used.
I think the only concern I have is the same one I have for flying. Aside from testing, mask use is the most important thing when it comes to not spreading COVID, and I think it’s awesome the panel is recommending that. But the reality is that there are some people who just won’t use them. Sure, they may say they’ll use them so they can get onto the ship, but what if they then take them off or wear them incorrectly every chance they get?
Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Group, was quoted as saying that he didn’t think onboard protocol compliance would be an issue.
“We have a guest conduct policy now, and I know that NCLH has the equivalent, and we’re used to people agreeing to abide by those policies and dealing with variations when they occur,” he said. “This will be something well-known in advance. That’s part of a point [the panel] made: this is a controlled environment. This isn’t like a store when someone opts in off the street and opts out again. It’s a controlled environment with people who have signed on for a period of time. We don’t really have huge problems with compliance, and I don’t expect we will here, either.”
Let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, their recommendations are a good start and for the sake of cruisers everywhere, I hope the CDC can find it helpful enough so cruises can begin in the not-too-distant future.
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#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands #wearamask
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary