While it is certainly too early to declare victory, cruise ships are seeing signs of improvement when it comes to the Omicron wave of the pandemic. This includes one major cruise CEO saying that “it appears the worst is behind us.”
At least for now, there are hopeful signs that’s the case.
Rising Numbers of “Green” Ships at Sea
Each weekday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publishes a “Cruise Ship Color Status” report. This report is based on information submitted to the health agency regarding possible COVID cases on ships sailing — or planning to sail — in the United States. In total, over 100 cruise ships across more than a dozen lines are covered by this report.
If there are no possible cases, then the ship is given “green” status. If there are possible cases within the past seven days, then a ship is assigned an “orange” or “yellow” status, depending on who is sick onboard and how many test positive.
A ship can also be assigned “red” status if the number of cases is enough to overwhelm the onboard facilities or if there is “sustained transmission” board. (No ship has received red status.)
While these guidelines don’t provide specific case numbers, they do give some insight into ships seeing positive tests onboard.
Cruzely has tracked the daily color status going back to August. Over that time the number of “non-green” ships has generally followed the path of cases on land. During the Delta variant for example, the number peaked in late summer — alongside cases on land — before subsiding.
However, the Omicron spike led to by far the fastest and highest peak in non-green ships since we began tracking reports.
How fast? On December 13, 2021, 24% of ships were either yellow or orange, indicating possible cases. By the end of the year, that figure was over 85%.
Since the variant hit, outbreaks on ships have made headlines, with some ships being denied ports of call and others even pausing sailing due to the disruption. Fortunately, things now appear to be getting better.
Slowly but surely, the number of non-green ships has started to fall. Peaking on January 18 at 98 ships — or 92% of all ships tracked — the figure has crept downward over the past two weeks. Today, it sits at 84 ships, or 78% of ships tracked.
Now, those numbers may not look like anything to brag about. However, due to the way that color is assigned by the CDC, it does not always illustrate the scope of improvement.
Under the CDC’s guidelines, if a single crew member tests positive on a cruise with passengers, then a yellow status is given. And if 50 people test positive? Then that status is still yellow. (Yellow is also given if 0.1% of passengers have reported cases.)
In other words, actual case numbers can fall dramatically while the status of the ship stays the same.
But cruise lines do seem to be seeing fewer cases. Already more ships have shifted to green, indicating no possible cases. On January 18, the number of green ships was just nine. Today, it sits at 24.
Royal Caribbean Says Their Cases Are ‘Declining Rapidly’
Cruise lines have also stated that they are seeing fewer cases on ships.
According to Royal Caribbean executives, cases on their ships have fallen sharply lower, just as they have on land.
“The good news is that in the last several weeks, cases onboard our ships have been declining rapidly, and we now have returned to exceptionally low pre-Omicron levels,” said Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty.
“In fact, over the last seven days we have averaged only a handful of positive guest cases per cruise. With the declining cases operational challenges are also abating, so while the variant is not done, it appears the worst is behind us.”
If we’ve learned one thing from this entire health crisis, it’s that it is impossible to predict what will happen next. For now, however, things certainly appear to be improving.
Even so, it will continue to take time to get back to the higher levels of green ships seen before the Omicron variant began spreading. Status is assigned based on the past seven days and as little as one case can mean an orange or yellow designation.
That said, there are definite signs of hope as the cruise industry looks to put yet another hurdle in the pandemic behind it.