(11 a.m. EDT) -- As cruise lines begin to return to service, isolated COVID-19 outbreaks have happened onboard several vessels. But unlike the early days of the pandemic, when outbreaks were happening on ships (and on-land) in mass numbers, these COVID-19 cases represent a very different reality.
On Thursday, Royal Caribbean reported two passengers onboard the current sailing of Adventure of the Seas -- both under the age of 16 and therefore, unvaccinated -- had tested positive for COVID-19. One was asymptomatic, the other had mild symptoms.
Royal Caribbean immediately tested the other people in the associated travel party. All came up negative. The line also tested all close contacts, all of whom also tested negative.
The affected passengers and their travelling party disembarked the vessel during its call on Freeport, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean notes 92 percent of passengers aboard Adventure of the Seas are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while the remaining eight percent are under the age of 16.
What is particularly noteworthy here is that the protocols and procedures in place worked. The two cases were discovered as part of Royal Caribbean's routine, end-of-cruise testing of all passengers.
The incident is similar to one that occurred two weeks ago aboard Celebrity Millennium. We were onboard when two cases were discovered as part of routine end-of-cruise testing.
The couple were isolated in another cabin, and passengers and crew were re-tested. The result: no other passengers or crew were affected.
These isolated outbreaks have also been occurring on MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises ships which have been sailing throughout the pandemic in Italy, and all have been dealt with safely and efficiently.
In March of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic started wreaking havoc across the globe, no such procedures were in place. Ships were sailing full, and the world was learning about COVID-19 along with the cruise industry. High-profile events like those aboard Diamond Princess in Japan put a face to COVID-19, even though spread was well-documented in other settings, like places of worship, hotels, bars and restaurants, community centres, and private homes.
Elimination of COVID-19 cases onboard isn't really an option, particularly when children who cannot be vaccinated may carry it onboard undetected (though some cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line mandate that only vaccinated passengers, and no one else, may set sail for the foreseeable future).
Onboard Adventure of the Seas, the two passengers who tested positive were unvaccinated and under 16 years of age. In that age category, adverse outcomes are rare and as vaccinations are approved for teens and children and made available to them, these types of instances will drop in occurrence.
Unvaccinated travellers are required to wear masks onboard Royal Caribbean's ships, and to practice physical distancing.
These rules and regulations, set forth by the CDC, go well above and beyond what is expected of businesses on land. Ships at sea must have COVID-19 testing and isolation plans.
Few such rules exist for land-based establishments. A recent COVID-19 outbreak in a Florida office building killed two employees and hospitalized several others, all of whom were unvaccinated and not wearing masks. A worker who was exposed to four of the infected people was not affected because he had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Back at sea, it is likely that isolated cases will continue to pop up now and then as sailings resume. But with cruise lines either requiring (or heavily encouraging) passengers to sail with full vaccination mandates, incidents like this should quickly become a thing of the past.
For a look at which cruise lines currently require proof of vaccination against COVID-19, see our feature on the subject here.