The most important aspect in the safe return of cruising is without a doubt the use of vaccines to protect passengers and crew. But as headlines have shown around the world, the vaccines — while undoubtedly beneficial — are not bulletproof.
Case in point: Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas had six passengers test positive for COVID during its current sailing. The ship currently sails round trip from Nassau and passengers were tested as part of the standard procedure for re-entry into The Bahamas.
According to a Facebook post from Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley, four of the passengers were vaccinated. Two others who tested positive were unvaccinated and traveling together. Five of the six total passengers who tested positive were asymptomatic. One had mild symptoms.
Royal Caribbean required all passengers 16 and over to have the shot and be tested before the cruise. Children under 16 were allowed to sail unvaccinated, but also underwent testing before boarding.
There were more than 1,000 passengers on the ship during the cruise. According to Bayley, the positive passengers and their parties were given private transportation back home.
Increased Cases Lead to Increased Testing
This news comes as Royal Caribbean also announced it will require testing of all passengers — even if vaccinated — before boarding ships departing the United States on trips of five nights or more. Previously, the cruise line allowed vaccinated passengers on U.S. cruises to sail without a test.
However, in recent weeks a spike of the highly transmissible Delta variant has hit the United States. From a low near 12,000 average daily cases in late June, current averages are around 72,000 cases per day. And while vaccines continue to show strong benefits regarding severe illness, there have been instances where fully-vaccinated people still catch the virus.
On top of that, 19 of 64 cruise ships (~30%) tracked by the CDC that are either sailing or plan to sail from the United States have “yellow” or “orange” status, indicating possible COVID cases in the past week.
While as little as one case can turn a ship’s status from “green,” it still shows that while protocols seem to be limiting the number of cases, the virus is still an issue. And with cases being found among vaccinated passengers, increased testing may be needed across all cruise lines to continue to keep passengers safe.
Cruise Lines in a Tough Situation
There is one caveat to that testing, however. It puts the cruise lines in a tough position from a public relations standpoint. With more tests, more virus cases will be found and tied to cruise ships. That’s a situation unlike other parts of the travel industry.
For example, if a person took a trip to Las Vegas, they would be free to travel from casino to casino without proof of vaccination and no testing requirements. That’s not the case in cruising. One commenter emphasized this point in response to Bayley’s announcement:
There’s no argument that the close contact in cruising can mean the spread of a virus. The CDC itself says that cruising is not a “zero-risk activity” during the pandemic.
But the protocols do appear to be working as cases are found, contact tracing is performed, and positive cases are isolated from others. In addition, vaccine requirements further lower potential spread. The CDC says it is “confident that cruising can resume safely” under its orders.
That said, the new potential for breakthrough cases among vaccinated passengers is something that looks to be a challenge for cruise lines.