Every US-Based Cruise Ship With Passengers Has Reported COVID-19 Cases

Cruise ships at PortMiami, 2016 (Corey Seeman / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Published Jan 4, 2022 6:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

With just 11 days to go until the expiration of the CDC's COVID-19 rules for cruise ships, the agency says that the epidemic has reached every vessel in the actively-operating U.S. cruise fleet. 

97 out of the 110 cruise ships that the agency tracks have reported COVID-19 cases on board within the past week, including every ship listed in a passenger-carrying voyage status, according to the latest numbers on the agency's website on January 4.

The CDC does not rank infection events by size, and all recently-reported U.S.-based cruise outbreaks have affected about one percent or less of the total onboard complement. The overwhelming majority of passengers and crew are fully vaccinated before boarding, and most of those who test positive experience no symptoms or light symptoms, according to initial industry reports. 

The 13 ships that have not reported any COVID cases recently are all in "crew-only" voyage status, including Carnival Horizon; Carnival Paradise; Carnival Sensation; Ovation of the Seas; Vision of the Seas; Celebrity Eclipse; Celebrity Solstice; Noordam; Crown Princess; Norwegian Sun; Regatta; Seven Seas Navigator; and Silver Muse. 

Last week, the CDC advised the public to avoid cruise ships due to the emergence of the highly-contagious omicron variant, which has proven resistant to immunity in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. “The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose," CDC cautioned in an advisory note. 

A handful of cruise ships have altered their itineraries due to COVID-driven disruption on board, but the bulk of the U.S.-based industry continues to operate largely as before under the rules of the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). That order has been extended until January 15, but it will expire shortly - along with CDC's onboard testing and reporting requirements - unless it is renewed. 

So far, evidence suggests that omicron is more infectious but less harmful than previous variants. It is spreading rapidly on shore, but it is not driving significantly higher rates of hospitalization (except among children). At the current rate of spread, it could peak in some states - including the leading U.S. cruise state of Florida - before the end of the month, according to epidemiologists.  

The shoreside pattern appears to be mirrored in cruise lines' experiences with omicron so far. At the end of last month, Royal Caribbean reported that it has had 41 COVID hospitalizations since it restarted operations in June, and none of them have been omicron cases, despite a recent rise in the number of positive test results. "Our case count has spiked, but the level of severity is significantly milder. We will remain nimble and in constant contact with health authorities," said the group's chief medical officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson. 

Top image: Cruise ships at PortMiami, 2016 (Corey Seeman / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)