When we last reported on the COVID-19 status of the Jewel of the Seas five days ago, there were twelve (12) crew members and seven (7) guests who initially tested positive for COVID-19 as the Royal Caribbean cruise ship was sailing around Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England.
At that time, according to Royal Caribbean, there was an increase in the number of infected crew members, leading to a the staff captain sending an email to the crew members to remind them to wear KN95 masks on the ship:
“We have unfortunately lately seen a spike in the COVID19 cases among our crew!
Please ensure following is strictly adhered to in order for us to break this inclining curve of C+ cases:
KN95 Masks are to be worn at all the times, except when in your cabin or when eating, drinking or smoking.”
When the Jewel of the Seas returned to Amsterdam from its last cruise on Friday, May 27th, the number of guests who tested positive had increased to twenty-nine (29).
The day after the Jewel of the Seas embarked on its current cruise to Iceland, half of the crew underwent antigen testing. The number of crew members infected with COVID-19 had increased to nineteen (19).
After the second half of the crew members underwent antigen tests later on Saturday, the number of ship employees who tested positive increased again, this time to a total of thirty-five (35) crew members. These infected crew members were isolated and housed in the “Red Zone” on decks three and four of the ship.
Included in the crew members infected with COVID-19 was the master of the Jewel of the Seas who had just signed on the ship. He is required to isolate in his own cabin on deck nine, close to bridge.
In addition to the master, the ship’s staff captain and chief safety officer also tested positive for COVID-19.
There are currently exactly 783 crew members on the Jewel of the Seas. 35 of them are infected with COVID-19. This turns out to be around four and one-half percent of the crew infected with the virus. If sailing from the U.S., the Royal Caribbean ship would be subject to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). Because it is sailing from Europe, there obviously is no obligation to report the infection rate to a U.S. federal health agency.
This now seems to be the new normal, with cruise voyages having at least a couple of dozen infected crew members and cruise guests. Perhaps there are some cruise ships with fewer infected crew members. One problem is that an infected crew member, of course, unlike a passenger, will remain on the ship and potentially is a source of infection from one cruise to the next if they are not properly quarantined.
This raises the question: should cruise lines be required to disclose the percentage of crew members and guests on cruise ships who are positive with COVID-19? The CDC requires cruise lines to disclose the number of people who are infected with diseases from norovirus and e-coli, for example. Data arising from a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship is publicly available when there are at least 2% of the crew or guests positive. The information can be readily viewed at the CDC’s online website.
But as matters now stand, cruise lines legally can keep outbreaks of COVID-19 secret. That’s why there are instances where there are outbreaks with several hundred people infected on a cruise and the public doesn’t know a thing about it. If there is not a legal requirement to disclose a health hazard, and no acountability if the cruise line keeps the information secret, I do not know of any cruise line with such honesty and transparency that it would disclose a danger voluntarily.
Most cruise lines lack transparency when it come to disclosing disease coutbreaks. That’s why, like this situation, it is important to have crew members or guests with first hand personal knowledge willing to reveal the true facts. This information comes from an anonymous crew member, who I have known for over a year and can be trusted to provide accurate information. But some cruise lines will not only conceal this type of information but affirmatively mischaracterize the truth.
At this point, the “new normal” seems to be that there will always be a few dozen COVID-19 cases on every cruise ship but the cruise industry will fail to disclose them to the public.
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Image Credit: Jewel of the Seas – Royal Caribbean Press Center.