Getting back to Cruising
This week I felt the need to write about what is being done to get the cruise lines to start sailing again here in the United States. Some of you may have heard about this on the news this week, but I wanted to put this out today if you didn’t hear about it already, or if you didn’t get a lot of information on it as of yet.
Back in July of this year, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. teamed up to form an advisory council to establish new health and safety standards onboard cruise ships (Healthy Sail Panel). These two companies brought in medical and health experts from around the country to work out what it would take to start safely sailing again.
This past Monday the Healthy Sail Panel announced that it had come up with 74 recommendations that should be followed to resume sailing again. In its 69 page document the Healthy Sail Panel broke these down into five categories and indicated which of the 74 items could be scaled down or eliminated as time goes on as well as those that should be permanently implemented.
These 74 recommendations are just that, recommendations. They are not saying that each cruise line needs to implement all of these or which ones they should, that will be up to the individual cruise lines. However, each cruise line will need to submit its ”back to sailing” measures to the CDC before they are allowed to start sailing again.
Currently the CDC has a no-sail order in place through September 30th. This will be revisited this month by the CDC to see if they need to extend the no-sail order.
Cruise Lines International Association is the world’s largest cruise line advocate. Approximately 95% of all cruise lines and travel agents who sell cruises are members of CLIA. Back on August 5th, CLIA announced that it’s ocean-going cruise line members agreed to a voluntary suspension until October 31st. This is a month longer than the CDC’s order and gives them more time to work on a solution should the CDC decide to extend their suspension.
CLIA announced this week that they had received the recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel and would be presenting the documents to the CDC. Should CLIA and the CDC see eye to eye on this and agree to let ocean ships start sailing again, that could happen as early as November 1st. As I mentioned earlier, each cruise line would have to present its own return to sail plan, but as long as they follow the recommendations of the Healthy Sail Panel, this should be a quick and painless process.
So, 74 suggestions…wow. That is a lot, but what exactly are they? I’m only going to cover a few in this newsletter however if you wish to view the entire document, I will have a link to it below.
The 74 suggestions are divided into five categories.
I. Health: Testing, Screening & Exposure Reduction
This section covers the testing of crew members as well as guests on-board the ship.
Crew members need to have a negative Covid-19 test one to five days before departure – they should be tested if possible when they arrive at the dock. Next they should be placed in quarantine for seven days and then tested again with a negative test result before starting their duties.
Guests should have a negative test result between one and five days of when they are going to sail. If they are positive, they won’t be allowed on the ship. Upon check-in or boarding the ship, guests should have a health screening and temperature check. If the health screening reveals they have symptoms, were in contact with someone with Covid-19, or have a temperature over 100.4 degrees they should be denied boarding.
The cruise lines should also have something in place to track and monitor guests during the cruise for signs of Covid-19.
The recommendations go on to talk about wearing a mask when in public places or when a guest can’t social distance.
II. Sanitation and Ventilation
This section talks a little about the sanitizing of the ship and guest quarters before, during and after the cruise. It also talks about the use of hand sanitizing stations onboard the ship for crew and guests. Hand sanitizing stations have almost become standard on cruise ships in the past several years due to SARS.
Next they speak of proper ventilation on the ship and how the cruise lines should come up with an air management solution to limit exposure to recycled Covid-19 infected droplets. I’ve been hearing over the past few months how some cruise lines have upgraded their air handling systems onboard to MERV 13 filters to minimize pathogen dispersal. The MERV 13 is the recommendation from the Healthy Sail Panel as well.
III. Response, Contingency Planning, & Execution
Onboard the ships the recommendations are to increase the amount of healthcare workers. This recommendation also specifies how many intensive care beds and patient beds are available based on the ship crew and guest capacity. The recommendations span from “ships carrying between 250 and up to 1,000 persons (meaning guests and crew) will have at least 1 intensive care capable bed, and 1 inpatient bed” all the way to “Ships carrying more than 8,000 persons will have at least 1 inpatient bed per 1,000 persons, of which 6 are intensive care capable beds.” If someone is found to have Covid-19, the cruise ship should have cabins set aside specifically for these guests to quarantine in.
Ships should have a treatment plan as well as be able to conduct contact tracing. If at all possible, medical crew should try to diagnose guests virtually rather than in-person if they believe they may have Covid-19 symptoms.
The recommendations go on to talk about evacuation and disembarkation suggestions.
IV. Destination & Excursion Planning
This is one of the most interesting sections. When you are on the ship you are in a controlled environment but once you leave the ship it is hard to keep control over where you go or who you have contact with. Some of the suggestions in this section may be a deal breaker for someone who wants to start cruising again.
First the ship should make sure it’s safe to visit at a specific port. That is all good, you don’t want to port where they are having a Covid-19 outbreak.
When ships return to sailing, they should start with shorter itineraries… start with 3 to 5 night instead of 12 night cruises. If you are on a 3 night cruise you won’t have as many days in distant ports so less chance of catching something.
Here is where it gets ugly… “Recommendation 59: During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit.” So, what you have here is that you can’t just get off the ship and wander around a port and go to the shops and restaurants. If you want to go snorkeling and the ship doesn’t offer it, you can’t go out on your own and have an unapproved third-party tour company take you snorkeling. If you are getting off the ship you basically have to be on an excursion that you scheduled through the cruise line (or some travel agents like myself will find you that tour you really want and then verify with the cruise line ahead of time that you would or would not be permitted to go with that tour company).
The cruise line should also have some sort of way of verifying that the tour/excursion companies are undergoing routine testing of their employees as well.
V. Mitigating Risks for Crew Members
This section deals with how the crew should maintain distance from the guests when possible and how they should handle social distancing.
There are two more sections but these deal more with monitoring the five previous sections and planning for the future.
If you want to read the entire report you can view it at https://bit.ly/2Hv5QsL
That is all I have for this week…I hope you found this useful and informative. Next week I should be back with a destination specific newsletter 😊