The total number of positive COVID-19 cases outside of U.S. based sailings since the cruise industry in North America shut down is now two-hundred and sixteen, after the Costa Smeralda experienced a positive case yesterday.

A Guest Aboard the Costa Smeralda Tests Positive for COVID-19

The Italian newspaper Savona News reported that a passenger aboard the Costa Smeralda tested positive for COVID-19 after it departed from Savona on May 1st with 1613 passengers, a little more than a quarter of its capacity. The newspaper says that unspecified measures “were taken immediately to contain the contagion. The traveler was placed in solitary confinement.”

The Savana News explained that COVID-19 tests were carried out in the middle of the cruise, in addition to the to those already provided before boarding. The cruise line also tracked the infected passenger’s contacts on board. These contacts were also placed in isolation and subjected to a further test as well, which was negative.

The cruise guest who tested positive, in agreement with the health authorities, will be disembarked in the port of Civitavecchia (near Rome) and then returned home by “protected transport.”

The Costa Smeralda left the northwestern port of Savona with great fanfare on May 1st  after being landbound since December  when the Italian government banned cruises during the holiday season due to the coronavirus crisis. Only Italians are permitted on the cruise which will call only at Italian ports (Civitavecchia, Naples, Messina, Cagliari and La Spezia).

There Have Been At Least 216 Positive COVID-19 Cases Outside of the U.S. Since the No Sail Order, Primarily in Europe

This positive COVID case brings the total of coronavirus cases on cruise ships outside of the U.S. to 216 since cruising was suspended from U.S. ports last year. The positive cases have come primarily from sailings in Europe. (You can read sources for this calculation here and here). The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, AIDA, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships.

Unfortunately, the cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), has persistently misrepresented the number of COVID cases outside of the U.S. CLIA claims that out of 400,000 passengers, there have been fewer than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships which have sailed from Europe and parts of Asia since last summer. In truth, CLIA has revealed only less than 25% of the actual number of cruise-related COVID cases, although the public probably does not care that the true number is 216 and not just 50.

Eight Prior Costa COVID-19 Cases 

In October of 2020, eight Costa Cruises guests tested positive for COVID-19 during two cruises on the Costa Diadema. As USA TODAY reported, the Costa cruise ship departed from Genoa on September 28th and ended its voyage on October 12th. The ship then departed on a second 14-day cruise with many of the same passengers on board from the previous cruise and returned to Genoa 10 days earlier than intended.

There was COVID-19 on the ship during both cruises notwithstanding Costa’s so-called “strenuous” protocols which promise a “totally safe cruise. An Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIX, reported that seven passengers were tested on Monday and were positive for the virus. Carnival told USA TODAY that “following excursions in Greek islands, they were tested again before returning to Italy, and seven preliminarily tested positive.” The guests were then retested in facilities in Palermo, again found to be positive for the virus, and then isolated ashore.

Another guest, a French national, later became ill on the Costa Diadema and a test taken on the ship was also positive for COVID-19. The passenger was then disembarked from the ship and transported to a hospital in Naples where the patient’s doctor characterized his condition in conflicting terms. Although one newspaper account in Italy indicated that the guest had a fever and other “mild” symptoms, the passenger was described in other accounts to be in a “serious” and “worrying” condition.

Meanwhile in the U.S.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the details of its conditional sailing order to eliminate the requirement for test simulated cruises provided that at least 95% of guests and at least 98% of crew members are fully vaccinated. After weeks of pressure from the cruise lines and their fans, travel publications and cruise bloggers, attempts at  legislation to disempower the CDC and a lawsuit filed by the state of Florida in an attempt to compel the CDC to drop its protocols to fight the pandemic, the local cruise industry is now preparing to try and resume sailings as early as this summer.

The Miami Herald explains that cruise lines will need to abide by CDC guidelines regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing. All passengers and crew members must be tested for COVID-19 during embarkation and debarkation. Fully vaccinated people will be required to take a rapid antigen test; those who aren’t vaccinated will need a PCR test.

For test cruises, cruise lines are required to end a the cruise if 1.5% of the passengers contract COVID-19 or 1% of crew members are detected with the virus. (The CDC hasn’t determined the threshold for ending non-test cruises yet). For a cruise with 4,000 passengers aboard for example, there must be at least 60 passengers with COVID-19 before the cruise is required to end early. This requirement is necessary after several cruise ships with COVID-positive passengers and crew were unable to dock at certain ports last year.

A major stumbling block for the cruise lines remain their unwillingness to comply with the CDC’s requirement that they submit evidence that they have made agreements with ports and local health authorities and housing entities in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak on their cruise ships. This requirement was part of the conditional sailing order last October.

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Photo credit: Costa Smeralda – HenSti – (cropped) CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; Costa’s “Totally Safe” advertising – Costa Cruises.