(5:45 a.m. EDT) -- When Celebrity Cruises announced it would be the first line to return to sailing the Caribbean after the cruise industry shut down in March 2020, it built its health and safety protocols to take into account the possibility positive COVID-19 cases could be discovered onboard.
Even with a fully vaccinated (and tested) crew and passenger base, breakthrough cases could happen. They've happened on land, and they certainly could happen at sea.
As one cruise line exec said: "You'll never eliminate COVID entirely, it's how you deal with it that is important."
So, five days into our seven-night cruise on Celebrity Millennium, when two passengers tested positive for COVID-19 after a routine required antigen test of all passengers, Celebrity and its staff were prepared, having undergone intensive training for just this type of scenario.
Celebrity immediately isolated the two passengers, who were asymptomatic, and had them take another test, Vice President of Hotel Operations Brian Abel told us. (The second test confirmed the results of the first.) Additionally, crewmembers who had close contact with the pair -- room stewards and waitstaff -- were immediately tested, and the results were negative for all of them, Abel said.
The next step was contact tracing; the pair were interviewed to find out where they had been spending their time, and Celebrity staff looked over closed-circuit footage onboard to identify people who had spent more than 15 minutes with them in a proximity of less than 6 feet. (Social distancing has been in play during our entire cruise. Venues like restaurants and bars have fewer tables, and the theater, fitness center and casino all have closed down some seating/equipment to encourage distancing.)
Also, people who shared buses on excursions with the two passengers who tested positive were isolated until their tests could be completed and results were in.
We heard our first announcement about the positive passengers just after 5 p.m. Thursday, and by 6:45 that night, the captain announced more than 200 of the roughly 600 passengers onboard had been tested, and only the two original guests were positive.
We've seen the protocols in action. If there's such a thing as a bubble, we've been in it. As a requirement to sail, all passengers -- and all crew -- were required to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the June 5 departure date. Additionally, passengers were required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving to the ship's homeport of St. Maarten. The two passengers, who are in the same cabin, like all others onboard, fulfilled those requirements.
To this point, life has felt "normal" onboard, where social distancing has been enforced but mask-wearing for guests is optional. Crew are required to wear masks as an added layer of safety.
The news of positive tests certainly requires the proper care, concern and protocols from the cruise line, and Celebrity acted quickly and transparently to ensure all onboard knew what was going on.
The thing is, the announcement from the captain that two people tested positive didn't send waves of panic through the passengers onboard. It didn't shut down the cruise activities, or even change plans for most people.
There's a confidence in knowing the cruise lines have prepared for exactly this possibility. They have trained their crewmembers to handle cases if they come up. Protocols are in place, and they are following them.
Because the cruise is a fully vaccinated sailing, the science and procedures in place have also helped to keep us calm, and the announcement of the positive tests didn't seem to break the mostly optimistic atmosphere onboard.
Because of the protocols in place, most guests were able to continue their cruise as planned -- attending shows in the theater, grabbing drinks at the lounges and frequenting the casino.
The current mood and reaction of passengers -- combined with the line's ability to swiftly put their protocols in motion -- serve as a reminder of how far we have come since the beginning of the pandemic -- and how cruise is uniquely positioned to deal with such an eventuality.