Star Princess Stops Noro-Virus

August 12, 2003
A quick Noro-virus-like outbreak on Star Princess - sailing a roundtrip Inside Passage itinerary out of Seattle last week - impacted 107 passengers and 14 crew members on the trip that ended Saturday. But the real news is that, once ship staffers realized some 60 folks reported gastro-intestinal disorders within the first two to three days of the trip, they were able to make sure the incredibly contagious virus didn't spread further to the rest of the ship. Star Princess was sailing at virtually full capacity with a passenger count of 2,800 (double occupancy is 2,600).
"You really have to hit it aggressively," says Tom Dow, Princess Cruises' Seattle-based vice president of public affairs, in assessing the situation. "We know so much more (about the virus) now."
Dow says that, upon realizing that when the number of ill cruisers increased from 15 to 60 in a day - ship officers and crew immediately went into Noro-mode. "The real story," Dow says, "is that the protocol we developed - based on sanitation and information - worked. The only way you can effectively knock it out in a few days is to quickly identify it, aggressively put the program in motion, and inform the passengers so they are aware."
Beyond the usual reactive efforts - extra sanitizing in public spaces and in-cabin letters to passengers urging them to wash hands frequently - Dow says staffers "have learned there are tricks." For instance, in port, on good weather days, crew members open windows and doors (having a lot of balconies helps). "Fresh air moving through the ship is an enemy of the virus," he notes. Medically, Princess' onboard health facilities are now equipped to conduct lab tests - onboard - and can get results within hours rather than days and weeks. In the Horizon Court buffet, passengers are not allowed to ladle up their own plates; crew handles that responsibility during a Noro-crisis.
Passengers who reported symptoms were given free medical attention and asked to stay in their cabins until they'd recovered. By week's end, there were zero reports of gastro problems.
On returning to Seattle, the ship, sans passengers, underwent a thorough cleaning. This may have caused some inconvenience to folks waiting to board for this week's cruise - embarkation was delayed for three hours or so - but Dow notes that after checking in, travelers were provided with shuttle transportation to downtown Seattle and day rooms at city hotels.
At this point, three days into its follow-up voyage, Star Princess is reporting no discernable trace of Noro-virus.