The procedures necessary for Norwegian and Royal Caribbean to get back in the water amid a global health crisis are fairly straightforward: test, test, test.
That’s what the cruise lines have told the Centers for Disease Control and prevention in a joint 66-page report, which came out of a conference back in July, that features 74 recommendations consisting of best practices for the industry. The findings are important, as the entire industry is still under a No Sail Order from the federal government, which prohibits cruise ships from leaving North America with passengers. The cruise industry has also issued its own voluntary suspension of service until at least Oct. 31.
The report details protocols for handling positive cases aboard a ship and enhanced “air management.” It also emphasized “aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation,” noting that this was the “single most important step” to reduce the risk of an outbreak.
Those recommendations include testing crew and passengers between five days and 24 hours before boarding. Crew are also recommended to quarantine for seven days onboard the ship even after testing negative. Masks should also be required for guests and crew. Not detailed in the report was whether guests or the cruise lines themselves would be paying for tests.
Among other recommendations: Self-service buffets should be removed in order to ensure social distancing, and group activities like yoga should be held on-deck, instead of in the gym.
The panel that published the report was co-chaired by Mike Leavitt, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“This panel undertook an ambitious, cross-disciplinary public health examination to develop standards and guidelines that create the highest level of safety in the complex environment of a cruise ship,” Leavitt said in a statement. “We studied the industry’s experiences combating the pandemic—and we then incorporated the many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months. The panel’s recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available, and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail.”
Each cruise line will have to submit an outline of adopted public health protocols to the CDC before the agency’s No Sail Order lifts. Executives at Royal Caribbean and Norwegian said their companies will use the panel’s recommendations to formalize their own protocols.
The CDC had been requesting comments from cruise brands and its customers since July 21, with more than 3,000 submitted so far.
In order to implement the protocols effectively, the panel recommends that cruise lines implement a “phased-in” approach to resuming service with test sailings, featuring limited guest capacity. Virgin Voyages, which has yet to embark on its first sail, outlined its own protocols in June and was the first to announce it would be capping onboard capacity.
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