There are a number of hurdles that must be overcome before cruises can get back to sailing from the United States, but a major milestone was just passed.
Today, the Healthy Sail Panel — a joint project between Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. — submitted to the CDC a 65-page plan with 74 recommendations to contain and prevent any cases of COVID on their ships.
This panel has worked since June to come up with a workable plan of suggestions to return to sailing. The plan is meant to show the CDC and the public exactly what the lines will do to adapt to the “new normal” of living in a world with COVID.
All told the plan covers all aspects of cruising, from testing and screening passengers and crew, to social distancing on the ship, and even ventilation on board, and how shore excursions will work.
Many of the steps suggested by the Healthy Sail Panel are already implemented on cruises that just returned to sailing in Europe. But reading through the document, it’s obvious that cruising will be VERY different, at least starting out.
Here are a number of the more interesting recommendations from the report.
Crew & Passenger Testing
The panel recommends that all crew be tested for COVID between 1-5 days before joining the ship. From there, they will need to isolate on the ship for one week, pass another test with a negative result, and only then begin working.
Additionally, the panel suggests monitoring the crew, including more testing to ensure that the virus isn’t being spread among them after they board.
All passengers are also suggested to have a negative COVID test 1-5 days before joining the cruise ship. If they receive a positive test, then they shouldn’t travel. Should rapid testing be available, then another test before boarding may occur.
Health Screenings and Temperature Checks
In addition to testing, all passengers and crew should have a health screening before boarding. This will include checking for any symptoms of COVID, checking for any contact with someone suspected of having COVID, and touchless temperature checks. Temperature checks will also occur at least once daily on the ship during the cruise for both passengers and crew.
Facemasks Required in Some Situations
Perhaps one of the most controversial recommendations among some passengers will be that guests and crew should be required to wear facemasks “in accordance with CDC recommendations.”
That means masks in indoor settings where other people are around, but not in the cabin. If in an indoor restaurant, social distancing measures should be in place so that masks aren’t required when eating.
Outdoors masks won’t be required from the panel’s suggestions, as long as there is enough space for distancing. Crew will be asked to wear masks during any interaction with passengers or other crew.
When returning to sailing, the Healthy Sail Panel is recommending a limit on the number of passengers and crew on board. This is to help with social distancing aspects of the cruise, but also providing plenty of space for isolating passengers or crew should they become sick.
Capacity controls are also suggested for specific areas of the ship like the casino and theater to comply with distancing requirements.
There was no specific percentage recommended (e.g. 50% of the number of typical guests), but simply that the number of guests/crew could change depending on each ship.
Yes, social distancing is definitely coming to cruising. The recommendations include distancing of six feet, starting from the terminal at embarkation to everywhere on the ship and even to cruise line private islands.
“The kinds of modifications that the Panel discussed include spacing out loungers at the pool, separating tables at restaurants or leaving some empty, blocking off certain seats
in the theaters, blocking off some slot machines to allow space between guests, and moving activities outdoors where possible (e.g., holding yoga class on the ship deck rather than in the gym),” the report said.
HVAC and Ventilation Upgrades
There are worries that the virus can be spread via air conditioning and ventilation systems. That’s why the panel recommended some drastic changes to shipboard HVAC systems.
This includes filtering air on the ship with MERV 13 filters, reducing or eliminating re-circulated air, using negative pressurization, increasing the number of “air changes” per hour in some areas, and also moving activities as much as possible to outdoors instead of inside the ship.
As seen with excursions in Europe, at least starting out, the panel recommends that guests should only be allowed off the ship on cruise line-approved excursions. Instead of going off on their own, guests will need to stick with those outings that comply with the cruise line’s health policies.
As well, the panel recommends the cruise lines make these approved excursions more appealing to passengers with lower prices and more variety so that passengers aren’t tempted to go off on their own and possibly break the rules surrounding health protocols.
In total, the panel’s 74 different recommendations cover all aspects of cruising and how to make it safer given the health crisis. While we’ve highlighted a number of moves that will directly impact all passengers, it’s still just a taste of what’s been suggested.
Other recommendations include:
- Crew training on COVID protocols and how to reduce transmission
- Placing crew in single-occupancy cabins when possible
- Contact-tracing procedures in case someone does get sick
- Simplifying itineraries when first returning (such as private island stops only) to keep better control
- Establishing plans for debarkation if passengers or crew fall ill
- Designating isolation cabins and quarantine spaces
- Improvement of medical facilities to handle COVID (or other infectious disease) cases
All told, the Healthy Sail Panel’s plan is exhaustive, but details will still need to be worked out by cruise lines regarding how exactly to implement the recommendations. It will also have to pass muster with the Centers for Disease Control, which currently has a “No Sail Order” in place that prevents cruise ships from sailing from the United States.
That current order expires September 30, but could be modified soon.