Many Americans first became aware of the threat of COVID-19 when news stories emerged of passengers on cruise ships enduring weeks of quarantine after COVID-19 was detected onboard.
The Grand Princess cruise ship garnered national attention at the beginning of March when it docked at a port in Oakland, California with at least 21 passengers who had tested positive for the COVID-19. More than 1,000 crew members remained on the ship in quarantine while 2,500 passengers were moved into quarantine on military bases in California, Texas, and Georgia.
Other cruise ships weren’t lucky enough to port at all. Many ships with confirmed cases of the virus found themselves turned away from ports of entry in multiple countries as health officials sought to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
The Plight of Holland America Zaandam
The ill-fated Holland America Zaandam represents the turmoil and uncertainty that many cruise ship passengers and crew members experienced at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Holland America Zaandam began its journey on March 7, just days before COVID-19 was declared to be a public health emergency. Holland America suspended its cruise operations on March 13, but eight of its ships, including the Zaandam, were already out at sea. Instead of docking in San Antonio, Chile on March 21, it was forced to stay at sea after hundreds of passengers reported flu-like symptoms.
By March 22, all passengers were placed in quarantine and isolated to their guest cabins. The Zaandam continued its quarantine for weeks, suffering the deaths of four passengers, until President Trump worked with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and military doctors to allow the cruise ship to dock in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“We couldn’t let them float aimlessly into the ocean looking for port as they’ve been doing for a long time and I made the decision we had to take them,” Trump explained at the time.
More than a dozen critically ill patients were removed from the ship first and transported to nearby hospitals, followed by 1,200 asymptomatic passengers who passed a health screening upon disembarkation. The remaining 26 symptomatic passengers remained onboard until they were asymptomatic for 72 hours. Private buses, chartered flights, and suited airline workers greeted the passengers to help them return home after more than 30 days.
The CDC Extends Its No Sail Order
On Thursday, April 9, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the extension of its original No Sail Order for all cruise ships.
Enforced on March 14, 2020, the original No Sail Order required all cruise ships to suspend their operations until one of the three following events occurred:
- The Secretary of Health and Human Services declares that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency
- The CDC Director modifies the order based on specific public health considerations
- 100 days from the date of publication of the Order
Overall, cruise ship operators are not allowed to embark or disembark passengers and crew members at ports or stations in the United States without direct consultation with and permission from Federal, State, and local authorities.
“The Director of CDC finds that cruise ship travel exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19 and that the scope of this pandemic is inherently and necessarily a problem that is international and interstate in nature,” the No Sail Order explains. “If unrestricted cruise ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, infected and exposed cruise ship cases would place healthcare workers at substantial increased risk.”
According to the CDC’s No Sail Order, passengers can expect to resume cruise ship travel no later than August. Many cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, issued passengers 125% future cruise credits after their existing reservations had to be cancelled.
However, even after the worst of the pandemic passes, cruise ships will need to continue implementing precautions. As part of the No Sail Order, all cruise ships seeking permission to enter or disembark from a U.S port in the future must develop and implement a robust plan to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the spread of COVID-19 on board cruise ships.
These measures recommended by the CDC include onboard surveillance of sick passengers and crew members, temperature checks, onboard medical screenings, social distancing protocols, and more.