Taking A Cruise During The Pandemic: A Go or No-Go?
This is an article ‘Taking A Cruise During The Pandemic: A Go or No-Go?’ by Marc Pulisci
We often hear the cliche 'too soon’ every time stand-up comics tell jokes about recent tragedies or resort to schadenfreude while on stage. The same applies whenever conversations shift to going on a cruise in the time of COVID-19. Last July, a 77-year old female passenger bought a ticket to a Carnival Cruise to Belize. After four days, she contracted the virus and died a week later, despite 96% of over 4,000 passengers having presented their vaccination cards before coming aboard.
There are still numerous factors to consider when deciding to travel for leisure, more so when boarding a cruise ship wherein you'll be sharing a relatively confined space with thousands of strangers. For one, being vaccinated does not necessarily mean you won't catch the coronavirus, and if you do, you will still be a spreader.
With vaccine hesitation still high in some U.S. states due to all the political conflicts surrounding related issues (only 62% of the country's population are partially or fully vaccinated), 'too soon' is the perfect answer for anyone planning to go on a cruise. Despite the leniency granted to tour operators since June, businesses are still struggling.
What the news says
For the unconvinced, let's focus on the news if what science says is not enough.
The Carnival Cruise where the 77-year old lady boarded required the presentation of vaccination cards from all passengers, but did not ask for negative COVID-19 tests. That means that even vaccinated individuals with comorbidities still have to take the necessary precautions and observe the usual safety protocols at the onset of the outbreak.
Regardless of several cases that have sprouted from news sources worldwide, vaccines remain the safest way to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, even if we can still get it. All approved vaccines have been meticulously tested and can spare individuals from severe COVID-19 symptoms or even death.
Still in the news, worldwide cases continue to increase rapidly due to the much more highly contagious Delta variant, which prompted governments and medical experts to take another look at travel regulations and protocols. For the cruise industry, a color-coded system has been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so that experts can gather more data on operational safety via U.S. waters.
Due to the Carnival Cruise outbreak, experts still deem traveling a high-risk activity even if safety measures and vaccination requirements are in place. Considering the proximity of rooms on cruise ships and how quickly a significant population can be potentially affected by even a small-group outbreak, you cannot ignore the risks regardless of how you believe the news, science, or misinformation.
A suffering economy
It's easy to understand why the federal government pushed for the opening of cruise operations back in June, and the reason is simply due to a suffering economy. The cruise industry accounts for more than 1.17 million jobs worldwide, and before the health crisis, the country enjoyed a 14 million passenger average annually. The last figure dropped to a staggering three million in 2020 during the onset of COVID-19.
Currently, the U.S. cruise industry experiences a total industry loss of around $110 million, with up to 800 jobs lost with each day of suspension. By the end of the third quarter, furloughing is projected to increase by 163,700 lost jobs.
On a global scale, 54 ships or a fifth of the entire global ocean cruise fleet were infected with COVID-19 from January to April 2020, resulting in 65 deaths and over 2,500 infections. Suppose we've learned anything from the Diamond Princess case wherein 700 out of the 3,770 crew members and passengers got infected, with nine people dying. In that case, it's easy to see how the virus can spread rapidly inside ships within days--a 'super spreader' if you will.
That means that on any day, while variants of the coronavirus are still around, cruises remain as high-risk environments when it comes to containing the infection. The industry has become an enormous can that's more prone to potential infection since there are several common areas on a cruise ship where people may socialize. And when a can is contaminated, it's usually best not to open it.
The same reason prompted regulations in the cruise industry to become much stricter than any other sector looking to go back into business. Air and land operations received more lenient guidelines and requirements than cruise operations, resulting in more challenges in terms of the supply chain.
The bottom line is that the cruise industry plays a vital role in its economy as several cities like Florida, Seattle, Los Angeles, and more rely on its operations for revenue. One report that focuses on how cruise line suspensions affected the local economy of Alaska showed that the region saw a 45% increase in passengers before the pandemic. Unfortunately, it eventually suffered debilitating impacts in losses on local and state revenue ($189M), profits for local businesses (12%), and unemployment trust balance ($29.8M).
Safety precautions if you should cruise
Suppose you decide to go on a cruise, despite all the risks mentioned above, knowing that vaccination cards and negative COVID-19 tests help but won't cut it. If it were up to Dr. Anthony Fauci or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it should take a while before Greenlighting cruise operations should not at all come this soon. Perhaps, by spring of 2022, the country is at least closer to showing a semblance of herd immunity.
However, if you really must go and want to experience a different kind of cabin fever than the usual home quarantine, taking the safest precautions should be the bare minimum. That means you should be fully vaccinated and buy tickets to cruise ships with proper health protocols and reduced capacities. You should also be wary of high-risk activities onboard (e.g., dining al fresco instead of indoors) and wear face masks at all times while practicing social distancing.
Nevertheless, in all honesty, and at least for the time being, cruise trips are a no-go, especially for those most vulnerable to coronavirus.