ORLANDO, Fla. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has color-coded dozens of cruise ships according to how many COVID-19 cases are reported on board, placing at least 86 under investigation or observation Wednesday ahead of the new year.
The ships under investigation include those from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival and Disney cruises with the CDC saying ships from Port Canaveral are among those affected.
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From gray to green, orange, yellow and red, the colors signify where the number of COVID-19 cases reported on a cruise ship at sea stands in relation to the threshold for CDC investigation.
Thirty-two Carnival cruise ships were in yellow status Wednesday, either under CDC investigation or post-inspection observation. The roster included the Carnival Mardi Gras, the largest in the corporation’s fleet that debuted in July and can carry almost 6,500 guests. Seven Carnival Corp. ships were in green status, and two were in orange status, according to the CDC.
For Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, 10 ships were given yellow status while two were labeled green and one orange. Ships of note include the Norwegian Breakaway and the Norwegian Escape, both with a yellow designation.
Royal Caribbean operates 25 ships that have been given a yellow label, as well as eight green and none orange or otherwise. One of the yellow ships, the Odyssey of the Seas, began skipping ports to head back to Fort Lauderdale last week after 55 people on board tested positive for COVID-19. The week prior, the Symphony of the Seas docked at Port Miami with 48 positive COVID-19 cases and was also given yellow status by the CDC.
Four ships with the Disney Cruise Line — the Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic and Disney wonder — have also been designated yellow by the CDC.
Industry expert Stewart Chiron said Wednesday there is no reason for passengers to panic.
Chiron, of CruiseGuy.com, just got back from his 12th cruise since the restart and is critical of the CDC’s list.
He said many of the ships aren’t back in service yet.
“A little over 90% of the positives that we’re seeing right now on the ships are crew members,” Chiron said. “The overall numbers are disproportionately low compared to what they are on land.”
How the CDC determines color label:
Ships in gray have not been reviewed for health and safety protocols, a designation mainly given to those operating from Florida ports that have chosen not to participate in the now-voluntary Conditional Sailing Order, according to the CDC.
A green label from the CDC means no COVID-19 cases have been reported on a ship for seven days.
Orange ship criteria acknowledge some COVID-19 cases reported on board in a seven-day period, but in less than 0.10% of passengers and in no crew on restricted voyages, according to the CDC. A simulated voyage is given an orange label if cases are reported in less than 1.5% of passengers or less than 1% of crew, wherein a crew-only ship will be given orange status if less than 1% of the crew tests positive in the same timespan.
Yellow ships cross those thresholds, with COVID-19 cases reported in 0.10% or more of passengers on restricted voyages or one or more crew members, more than 1.5% of passengers or 1% of crew on simulated trips, and 1% or more on crew-only ships. For some perspective, a restricted voyage of 6,500 passengers will enter yellow status if at least seven of them report a positive COVID-19 case in seven days, according to the CDC. This designation makes up the vast majority of the cruise ships on the list.
There are a number of factors that go into giving a cruise ship a red label from the CDC, with the ultimate decision weighing the number of COVID-19 cases on board with the ship’s capability to respond to them.
According to the CDC, because no specific percentages are given to stay below or cross, a ship will be reviewed for red status if sustained transmission of COVID-19 or illnesses like it could potentially overwhelm medical resources on board. For example, considerations could include the percent of passengers vaccinated, the presence of variants of concern — such as delta or omicron —, the number of hospital beds and other medical supplies on the ship, or the chance that significant epidemiologic links are found between cases, such as from a dance or buffet.
The CDC said it will have to work closely with a cruise line before assigning the status to any of its ships, and none have been given a red label at the time of this report.
Chiron said he doesn’t believe the industry will shut down again.
‘’The numbers don’t warrant it. Yeah, there’s been COVID, but the protocols on these ships are working,’’ he argued.
Cruise passenger Terry Ferguson agreed with Chiron. He said he sailed out of Miami this week on another Carnival ship the CDC is looking at, but his experience was fine.
‘’We’re looking forward to booking our next cruise,’’ Ferguson said. ‘’We’re already shopping for our next one.’’
A record number of passengers are shopping.
Chiron said cruises in 2022 and 2023 are getting booked at a faster rate than before the pandemic.
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