Many of us have big plans for spring break. The kids are out of school, and it’s a great time to spend time with family. For inter-generational trips, cruises are always an exciting go-to vacation. There are dinner and dancing for the adults, kids’ clubs for children and lots of attractions the whole family can enjoy. But, as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread — and is now officially recognized as a pandemic — the government is warning families away.
On a typical day, you are far more likely to come in contact with the flu than with COVID-19. Moreover, taking precautions with frequent hand washing and avoiding ill people can go a long way toward preventing infection. However, on a cruise ship, you are gathered with up to 5,000 passengers and 2,300 crew members. When you are in your own home, you can wash surfaces and know with relative certainty that no one with the virus will touch those surfaces. On a cruise ship, you don’t know who touched anything in a public space or if any staff who have been in your room may be carrying COVID-19. Crew members are being screened, but no system is perfect.
Quarantines can occur. If you are stuck on the ship, your risk for infection is much higher. The Diamond Princess ship had 619 people out of 3,700 passengers who became ill during a quarantine. The number is estimated to be eight times more infections than would have happened had they been allowed to leave the ship. If they had evacuated the ship, scientists using mathematics models say that 76 people would have fallen ill. But even if you are allowed to disembark the ship, quarantines are inconvenient, and folks have been canceling their trips over the risk of getting stuck.
“It was less about the virus and more about the impact of a possible quarantine,” said Mark Eickhoff, who was meant to be taking a cruise around the Caribbean this week. “You have 5,000 people on the boat, but one person gets sick, and everyone is impacted. That’s too high-risk for us.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has said that, if you are healthy, there is no reason to eschew cruise vacations, “If you are a healthy young person, there is no reason if you want to go on a cruise ship, go on a cruise ship.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/douggollan/2020/03/09/fauci-says-cruising-is-ok-if-you-are-healthy/#102fc11c2d4d) However, he cautions that this is not advisable for other people. “Elderly [people] with underlying conditions, heart disease, chronic lung disease [should avoid] things that are at high risk, crowded places, getting on airplanes, and absolutely don’t get on a cruise ship.”
“If you have a family member or are yourself, a senior citizen with a serious underlying health condition, this would be a good time to practice common sense and to avoid activities, including traveling on a cruise line, that might unnecessarily expose one to the coronavirus,” said U.S. Vice President Pence. If you do risk it, it appears that you are less likely to be quarantined at sea, which is a slight step up from being trapped on the boat. He continued, “New quarantining standards will be coordinated with the CDC for all ships, and we also will be working with the industry as they develop a plan to move any patients that contract the coronavirus or otherwise become seriously ill to land-based facilities.”
The State Department used even stronger language, “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.” To learn more about the CDC’s travel suggestions, visit their site.
While it can be very disappointing to cancel a family trip, it’s important to protect yourself and your loved ones. Google cruise lines to see their current refund policies; they’ve been changing as the COVID-19 situation has worsened. Hopefully, you can get a refund or voucher and spend it on a trip in the future! We always talk about getting out into the world on Fridays, but this week, consider avoiding the world and practicing social distancing while the virus is spreading.