CDC unveils new COVID-19 classification system for cruise ships

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Two and a half months after the cruise industry closes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the world’s largest cruise lines are almost in agreement on how to limit the epidemics of COVID-19 on ships while cruises remain banned, the agency said in Miami. Herald Monday.

The CDC is nearing the end of its review of health and safety plans submitted in April by South Florida-based Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages describing how companies will detect, prevent and mitigate the spread of coronavirus at sea during the cruise shutdown. The agency plans to publish the plans in the coming week, as well as a dashboard for each vessel operating in US waters that reflects its level of infection.

The vessels will be classified according to a color system: green for no confirmed case of COVID-19 or COVID-like illness for 28 days, yellow for one or more cases of COVID-like illness awaiting confirmation, red for one or more COVID-19 or COVID-like illness confirmed within the past 28 days. If the vessel is designated green, commercial transport for the repatriation of the crew is authorized. More than 62,000 crew members are still waiting to return home.

Based on the designations announced Tuesday on the CDC website, companies may be required to place crew members in single occupancy cabins (as most already do), shut down all group sites and mandate face covers for all the crew. All vessels must eliminate self-service meals, discourage handshakes, encourage hand washing and place hand sanitizer throughout the vessel.

The new data may better shed light on how many cruise ships have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks. An ongoing investigation at the Miami Herald has confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to 63 ships, nearly a quarter of the world’s ocean cruising fleet.

Outbreaks continue among crewmembers trapped on ships awaiting repatriation 10 weeks after the industry initially stopped cruising as travel restrictions around the world tightened. Since then, hundreds of crew members have been infected with COVID-19, and at least seven have died from the disease, according to analysis of data from the Miami Herald.

Cruise lines say they are continuing to work with the CDC on these plans to prevent epidemics.

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A crew member on board the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas cruise ship cleans the window while the ship is docked at PortMiami on Friday May 15, 2020 in Miami, Florida. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“It is still early in the process, and our current goal is to repatriate our crew members to their respective countries of origin, but we will continue to work closely with the CDC, as well as with other health authorities and governments on the requirements and protocol necessary to resume cruising in the future, “said Carnival Corp. spokesperson Roger Frizzell. He said the company had repatriated 42,000 crew members, while 38,000 were still awaiting repatriation.

“We are studying the latest CDC update. We will continue to work with the CDC and other authorities to achieve our common goal of bringing our crew home safely, “said Royal Caribbean Cruises spokesperson Jonathon Fishman. He said the company had repatriated 24,567 crew members, while 19,098 were awaiting repatriation.

A spokesperson for MSC Cruises said the company had repatriated 14,538 crew members, while 4,097 were awaiting repatriation, and is evaluating the new classification system. An MSC ship is en route to Europe with 1,430 crew members at home, the company said, and noted that some countries still do not allow citizens to return.

Virgin Voyages has repatriated about 400 crew members while about 80 are still waiting to return home, according to a spokesperson.

Crew members not working on Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and certain subsidiaries of Carnival Corp., including Princess Cruises, are not paid. Royal Caribbean provides $ 13 a day to a non-working crew, who say they have to pay for toiletries on board.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Disney Cruise Line and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The seven cruise lines first submitted plans on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 among crew members on April 23 after the CDC’s non-navigation order came into effect, prohibiting cruising in American waters until July 24 at least. to bring ships to U.S. waters while cruising remains prohibited and require cruise ships to submit medical data to the CDC on a weekly basis, said CDC Director Global Migration and Quarantine Division Martin Cetron. Cruise ships are already submitting similar data to the CDC regarding gastrointestinal illness at sea as part of the agency’s ship sanitation program.

“It’s a big industry with a lot of players,” said Cetron. “This is an industry that has been under the supervision of the CDC for many years,” subject to announced and unannounced inspections and ship rating systems.

The CDC oversees cruises based in the United States, which account for most of the industry’s activities. Almost two-thirds of Carnival Corp. ships were based in North America in 2019, according to financial documents, and revenues from North American cruises represented almost 60% of revenues from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. the same year.

Back to business

The industry hopes to resume cruises – with passengers – this summer. But the plans being finalized do not apply to passenger cruises. Cetron said the CDC has not started examining plans on how to safely operate cruises before developing a vaccine.

“This is the bare minimum,” said Cetron of plans to mitigate the spread of the virus on ships while the cruise is stopped. “If a line wants to regain full density again on board, by taking on people who risk dying from COVID, they must be able to control COVID on these ships when their occupancy is 90% lower.” It will be this plan on steroids. “

Cetron described the task of cruise lines to protect future COVID-19 passengers and crew as “Herculean” and compared the risk of infection on cruise ships to meat packing plants, establishments long-term care and prisons.

“You adapt that to where your population is global in nature. All of these challenges, in addition to being at sea without access to rapid medical assistance, are necessary, “he said.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced its health protocols for resuming the cruise on Monday, including the presence of COVID-19 tests on board, the creation of a new public health officer position for each vessel, the taking of temperature of passengers before boarding and increased frequency of cleaning on board.

The company’s biggest competitors – Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises and MSC Cruises – have yet to announce health protocols for passenger cruises.

The Miami Herald interviewed five doctors, three of whom treated COVID-19 patients on cruise ships, about what cruise lines can do to keep passengers and crew safe if the companies resume operations before that a vaccine is not available. They recommend that cruises operate at 50% capacity, test passengers for COVID-19 before boarding, stay less than 500 miles from land, and provide more medical personnel and ventilators, among other things.

An earlier version of this story misrepresented the number of Royal Caribbean Cruises crew members who have been repatriated (24,567) and are awaiting repatriation (19,098).

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