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Ruby Princess Draws Attention with 253 COVID Cases in Five Weeks

COVID-19 cases on Ruby Princess crusie ship
Ruby Princess recently returned from Alaska to San Francisco reporting 35 cases of COVID-19 (Princess Crusies file photo)

Published Apr 27, 2022 5:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Princess Cruises ship the Ruby Princess is drawing the attention of health authorities and the media after reports of several recent cruises with passengers testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. While just about half of all the cruise ships currently reporting to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently had cases of the virus, the Ruby Princess has had a total of 253 cases in the past five weeks according to calculations by The Washington Post.

The 113,560 gross ton cruise ship docked in San Francisco on April 23 with a report of 35 cases on its last cruise, which was to Alaska, the San Francisco Department of Public Health told the newspaper. Previously, the ship reported 143 positive tests when it returned from a two-week cruise to Hawaii in early April. Before that, the ship arrived in San Francisco at the end of March with a further 73 positive cases also according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The Ruby Princess is currently running cruises from San Francisco to Alaska next due to sail on April 30.

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the Ruby Princess became the center of a controversy in Australia. The ship returned to Sydney at the end of a cruise and passengers were permitted to disembark although there were 170 cases of the virus aboard the ship. Health authorities ultimately traced nearly 800 cases in Australia that they associated with the cruise ship passengers, crew, or people who came in close contact with the passengers when they returned home. Australia conducted an investigation concluding that errors had been made in the handling of the ship placing most of the blame on the public health agencies in New South Wales and some lack of reporting by Carnival Australia. Princess Cruises and the captain were broadly exonerated of wrongdoing.

Princess Cruises and all of its parent company Carnival Corporation are voluntarily participating in the CDC’s current tracking program. According to the CDC’s website, the Ruby Princess now falls into the “highly vaccinated” category which the agency defines with at least 95 percent of passengers and crew fully vaccinated but less than 95 percent are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, meaning they have not all had booster shots. 

The cruise ship has a passenger capacity of 3,080 people with an additional 1,200 crew when it is operating at capacity. It is unclear how many passengers and crew were aboard the ship on these cruises, but it would represent approximately three percent of the population, enough to place the ship under observation by the CDC. Currently, the CDC lists 98 cruise ships participating in its program with 56 under observation, and an additional 20 had recently reported COVID-19 cases, while 21 are currently green with no recent cases of the virus. Five of Princess’s ships, Caribbean, Discovery, Grand, Majestic, and Ruby Princess, are all currently reflected as having a status of orange, which means that they are being monitored after recently reporting cases.

Princess Cruises in a statement about the cases aboard its cruise ships said “The protocols that have been established work,” citing that it uses testing to identify passengers or crew. Passengers testing positive or reporting symptoms are placed into quarantine cabins isolated from the other passengers on the cruise. The cruise line notes that most passengers are asymptomatic, however, according to The Washington Post, one passenger aboard the Hawaii cruise in early April was hospitalized. 

The uptick in cases on the cruise ships follows a similar pattern to the broader population which has seen increased reports of the virus mostly due to new subvariants. However, it comes at a bad time for the cruise industry which has been working to bring more ships back into service and increase capacity on its in-service ships. 

Today, Princess Cruises marks the return of its tenth cruise ship to service. The 92,000 gross ton Island Princess with a passenger capacity of 2,200 and 900 crew becomes the company’s second ship to start sailing in 2022. She is operating two cruises through the Panama Canal before heading to Southampton, England for summer cruises in Europe. Princess is scheduled to bring back two more cruise ships in May for cruises to Alaska, before restarting in Australia in June, and adding two more ships in September from California, completing the reactivation of the cruise line’s entire fleet.