As the coronavirus pandemic raged around the world, cruise ship companies continued to allow their crews to attend social gatherings, work out at gyms and share buffet-style meals, violating basic protocols designed to stop the spread of the highly transmissible virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a scathing 20-page order, released Thursday, that extended the suspension of cruise operations until Sept. 30.
In a rebuke of the cruise ship companies, Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., blamed them for widespread transmission of the virus. The C.D.C. said there were 99 outbreaks aboard 123 cruise ships in United States waters alone, the agency said in the statement. From March 1 until July 10, 80 percent of the ships in the C.D.C.’s jurisdiction were affected by the coronavirus. The agency said there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed cases and 34 deaths on ships in U.S. waters.
As of July 3, nine ships still had ongoing or resolving outbreaks.
The C.D.C. spent at least 38,000 hours managing the crisis, the order said. Public health authorities had to do contact tracing for some 11,000 passengers, more than the number of contacts identified from airplane flights since the beginning of pandemic, the C.D.C. said.
The cruise industry has struggled to manage the coronavirus pandemic since the start, when the Diamond Princess, part of the cruise giant Carnival Corporation, moored in the Japanese harbor of Yokohama, Japan, amid an outbreak that eventually infected 712 people and killed nine of them. Even as warnings were issued about the dangers of cruise-ship travel, passengers kept boarding and ships kept sailing.
Though more and more cruise passengers fell ill, companies continued their voyages, offering entertainment that included live music and pool parties. The industry ultimately suspended operations in mid-March, but as ships made their way to port, many passengers and crew were stranded around the world, as countries refused the ships entry.
One ship arrived in Fort Lauderdale with four dead passengers on board.
Many of those passengers who were allowed to disembark from contaminated ships “traversed international airports, boarded planes and returned to their homes,” the C.D.C. said, potentially spreading the virus further.
The cruise industry had already voluntarily suspended operations until Sept. 15, and many companies withdrew their ships from United States waters, removing them from the C.D.C.’s jurisdiction. But the order from Dr. Redfield underscores the gap between the industry and the public health agency. The companies cannot begin to sail again until they come up with cohesive plans for prevention and mitigation of the illness.
Cruise ship companies submitted plans on how to safely evacuate crews, but nearly all the companies failed to meet the basic requirements necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the C.D.C. said. Crew members still bunked together and shared bathrooms. Even ships that seemed to have gone a month without any coronavirus cases had crew members who tested positive upon reaching shore, Dr. Redfield said.
One company, Norwegian Cruise Lines, said it felt it had exceeded recommended C.D.C. guidance, because crew members were not just asked but “encouraged” to wear face coverings, the order said. Disney acknowledged that some of its asymptomatic-infected crew members had not quarantined until after the results of shipwide testing came in.
The companies created a task force to come up with recommendations on how to safely sail, but according to the C.D.C., the group will not produce its findings for several months.
If unrestricted cruise-ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, it would put “substantial unnecessary risk” on communities, health care workers, port personnel and federal employees, the order said, as well as placing passengers and crew members at increased risk.
The agency’s previous no-sail order was set to expire July 24.
Disney said only one of its four ships, the Disney Wonder, had an outbreak on board —but only after passengers had disembarked. The company tested every crew member on board and isolated non-essential crew to their cabins for three weeks in April. Half the 174 crew who tested positive had no symptoms, the company said.
Updated July 16, 2020
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
- A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
- The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
The ship has not had a positive case since May 8, Disney said.
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, whose failures were specifically cited in the C.D.C. document, released statements in response to the order that did not specifically address the allegations.
Norwegian said it canceled trips through September, as well as cruises embarking from or calling on ports in Canada in October. “We continue to partner with the C.D.C. and other authorities to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 by prioritizing the health and safety of our passengers and crew,” the company said.
Royal Caribbean said it would suspend operations through September to comply with the order. “The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our top priority,” the company said.
Carnival Cruises said that it had already extended its suspension through September. But the company plans three voyages in Germany next month through a European line, and Italy trips are also expected soon, a spokesman said.
Bari Golin-Blaugrund, a spokeswoman for the Cruise Line Industry Association, a trade organization that represents most of the major cruise companies, released a statement that did not address the C.D.C. criticisms.
“As we continue to work towards the development of enhanced protocols to support the safe resumption of cruise operations around the world, we look forward to timely and productive dialogue with the C.D.C. to determine measures that will be appropriate for ocean-going cruise operations to resume in the United States when the time is right,” she said.
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