Yesterday we reported on an outbreak of coronavirus which infected thirty-eight crew members on the Disney Wonder, according to crew members who listened to an announcement by the captain yesterday evening.
Since we published our article, we have learned two thing: First, that a large number of former guests on the Disney cruise ship developed COVID-19 symptoms after they disembarked in San Diego from the March 6 to March 19 cruise from New Orleans to San Diego. And secondly, Disney knew that a guest who had cruised on a prior cruise to Mexico from February 27th to March 2nd had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from that cruise.
Disney Knew that a Prior Guest on the Disney Wonder Tested Positive for COVID-19 – Did Disney Have an Obligation to Inform its Guests?
There is evidence that Disney knew, before the cruise ship arrived in Diego, that a guest who sailed on a prior cruise tested positive for coronavirus. The Sun Herald newspaper in southern Mississippi reported on March 16th in an article titled Hancock County Woman with Coronavirus Went on Disney Cruise from NOLA to Mexico that a 74 year old woman from Mississippi tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a cruise on the Disney Wonder to Mexico which left New Orleans on February 27th and returned on March 2nd.
After the woman returned home from the cruise, one of her children reportedly called Disney Cruise Line to report that her mother was ill, according to the same newspaper in an article titled Disney Denies Knowledge of Coast Woman’s Coronavirus Diagnosis. Is That Really the Case? The woman told the newspaper that Disney officials called her at home regarding her diagnosis.
The Sun Sentinel newspaper reported on March 18th, before the Disney ship reached port in San Diego, that “several people who went on the same cruise (February 27-March 2) have reached out to find out why they have not been informed of the fellow passenger’s diagnosis.”
In response to questions from the Sun Herald, Cynthia Martinez, Disney Cruise Line’s PR director, responded by saying, “We have not been notified by public health officials of any COVID-19 cases related to our ships.” It is less than clear whether Disney was denying that it had spoken to the woman or her daughter regarding the positive COVID-19 diagnosis or simply that it had not spoken to the local health department about the diagnosis.
In either event, Disney clearly knew no later than March 18th when the Sun Herald’s article was published that one of its guests had tested positive for COVID-19. Admittedly, there is no indication that the woman had been infected on the Disney ship or was contagious during the cruise. And Disney did not learn until the last cruise on the Disney Wonder had set sail that this guest tested positive for COVID-19. When Disney learned its guest tested positive did it have an obligation to inform its guests and crew members who sailed on that cruise? On the next cruise to Cozumel from March 2nd to the 4th? Or the cruise in question to San Diego from March 6th to 19th and before they disembarked and returned home?
There is no indication that when it learned of the diagnosis of the Mississippi woman that it told the guests (and crew) who were still sailing on the Disney Wonder that a prior guest had developed COVID-19.
Dozens of Passengers on the March 6 to 19 Cruise Have Tested Positive for COVID-19
Yesterday many guests on the Disney Wonder who had sailed on the March 6-19 cruise contacted us and stated that they became ill after the cruise. Many of these guests state that they have gone to the emergency room of hospitals and received positive COVID-19 tests. Several people have stated that their spouses and traveling partners have been admitted into intensive care units and placed on ventilators. Some guests reported being ill with fevers, losing their taste and smell, and experiencing difficulty breathing. Many were unable to receive COVID-19 tests despite these symptoms.
There have also been at least two reported cases of passengers who were on the cruise and developed COVID-19 symptoms who later died. A third guest reportedly died during the cruise although there is no clear indication that he died as result of COVID-19.
A Facebook (invitation only) private page for the cruise in question, called the Disney Wonder March 6, 2020 Westbound Panama Canal Cruise, contains many dozens of posts by passengers who have stated that they or their loved ones have tested positive for COVID-19 since the cruise. I have reviewed a partial collection of screen shots of postings on the Facebook page indicating that as many as forty Disney guests on the cruise have tested positive.
One account from a passenger states that there have been over 100 reported cases of people who tested positive after the cruise. I have no way to confirm this estimate as I am unable to review all of the postings on the private Facebook page.
Many passengers from the cruise contacted Disney and reported that they had tested positive for COVID-19.
A blog regarding Walt Disney World contains an article titled Handful of Guests on Disney Wonder Sailing from New Orleans March 6 Test Positive for COVID-19, dated March 28, 2020.
The article states that travel agents have been receiving letters from Disney Cruise Line directed to their clients who sailed on the cruise in question. In the letter, Disney Cruise Line states that they “didn’t receive any reports of guests or crew members with COVID-19 symptoms during the sailing.” If the Sun Herald report is accurate which states that Disney actually spoke with the infected Mississippi passenger from a prior sailing, this was obviously a misleading if not false statement. Disney knew it might have had an infected passenger on board from a prior cruise.
Following the cruise, Disney received information from, who it describes as a “handful” of guests, that they began feeling ill after returning home and have since tested positive for COVID-19. Disney claims to have shared this information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Disney claims that it contacted its guests on the cruise and notified them that other passengers and crew members on the cruise have tested positive. A local newspaper in San Diego reported that Disney claimed that as of March 30th it had only two crew members and a “handful” of guests ill with coronavirus.
Disney also sent emails to members of the Facebook group informing them that it had received notice that just a “handful” of guests tested positive.
The Disney Wonder can accommodate 2,400 guests and around 950 crew members. We now know that at least 38 out of around 950 crew members are ill with the virus. The question is how many of the approximate 2,400 passengers are infected? Disney’s claim that just a “handful” of guests became ill may also be another understatement.
Yesterday, Disney announced that it was canceling the sailings of the Disney Wonder through June. Disney did not make any specific reference to the outbreak of coronavirus on the ship during its last cruise. It chose instead to refer in its official statement only to the Canadian ban against cruise ships docking in Canadian ports before July 1st.
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April 7, 2020 Update:
A newspaper in San Diego reports that “Port of San Diego officials said that Disney had assured them that no one on board the Wonder had exhibited any coronavirus symptoms.”
The newspaper also states that “also on board were 935 crew members, most of whom still stay on the ship. However, 110 of them have contracts that have ended and they will leave the ship with the passengers.”
Cruise lines are legally responsible for providing medical treatment and other benefits to crew members whose illnesses can be traced back to their employment, irrespective of whether their employer may have been negligent. Has Disney notified any of its former crew members or crew members currently on vacation that they may have been infected?
Photo credit: Sergey Yarmolyuk – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.