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Reuters reports that a Norwegian cruise ship docked this morning in New Orleans with around 3,200 passengers after COVID-19 was detected in ten crew members and guests on the ship, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not disclose such details regarding the name of the cruise line or cruise ship. This case reveals how CDC keeps public in dark regarding such basic information.

The Norwegian Breakaway, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, departed New Orleans last week (on November  28th) on a week-long cruise, calling on ports in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

Reuters reports that all passengers will be tested for COVID-19 before disembarking the cruise ship and will be provided with “post-exposure and quarantine public health guidance” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People who test positive for COVID-19 are supposed to either travel directly to their homes or self-isolate according to the CDC guidelines.

The Hill later reported that according to WVUE, NCL “provided them with take-home rapid tests upon leaving the ship.” If this is accurate, it is doubtful that all passengers will follow through with such testing on their own initiative.

This outbreak involves vaccinated passengers and crew members, as NCL requires all passengers and crew members on its cruise ships to be vaccinated. NCL states that the passengers are asymptomatic at this time.

NCL misleadingly stated that there were only a “handful of COVID-19 cases among guests and crew.”

According to a news outlet, some disembarking passengers told WVUE-TV in New Orleans that they were notified about the positive cases on the cruise ship, while others said they had no idea about the outbreak until being asked about it by a reporter.

“We didn’t hear of this until we kind of heard you talking a second ago,” said Don Canole, a passenger from North Carolina. “It would have been nice to have known. We would have taken maybe a few more precautions.”

NCL is maintaing its current sailing schedule for the Norwegian Breakaway which leaves on another week-long cruise later this afternoon.

This particular incidnt is receiving a great deal of coverage in the U.S. press, despite the fact that the number of positive COVID-19 cases (10) is substantially less than other cruise ship outbreaks. It appears that the press coverage is the result of the transparancy of the Louisiana Department of Health which has regularly tweeted about information about the outbreak. Unlike the CDC, the Louisiana Department of Health publicly identifies cruise ships with COVID-19 cases.

NCL does not require the wearing of masks on its cruise ships, even in indoor spaces.

A Slew of Large COVID-19 Outbreaks

The CDC, which extended its conditional sailing order at the end of October until next year, identified one-thousand, three hundred and fifty-seven COVID-19 cases on cruise ships between June 26 – October 21, 2021. You can read the order (total at page 20) here.

The CDC highlighted what it described as “several large outbreaks” on cruise ships. The CDC did not identify any of the cruise ships inolved in the outbreaks.

  • 21 infected – on July 24, 2021, one symptomatic passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 on a cruise ship (Cruise Ship A) was epidemiologically linked to 20 additional COVID-19 cases over two voyages, including 2 passengers and 18 crew.
  • 58 infected – between July 24 – August 28, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship B) reported 58 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew.
  • 13 infected – between July 29 – 31, 2021, three symptomatic passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on a cruise ship (Cruise Ship C).  Contact tracing and testing identified an additional 12 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 10 passengers and 2 crew.
  • 105 infected – between August 19 – September 7, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship E) reported 105 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew on a total of four consecutive voyages.
  • 112 infected – between August 21 – September 7, a cruise ship (Cruise Ship F) reported a total of 112 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew on four consecutive voyages.

It does not appear that COVID-19 cases where guests disembarked the cruise ship and then tested positive were  included in these totals, even where the guest was exposed to COVID-19 during the cruise and likely contracted the disease there.

Most Positive Virus Cases Involve “Breakthrough Infections” of Vaccinated Passengers and Crew

The COVID-19 vaccination rates on all of these unnamed ships were at or very near to 100% for crew and between 96.4% and 100% for passengers. Some of the cases apparently involved unvaccinated children, but the majority involve fully vaccinated adults.

USA TODAY reported that when cruise ships began sailing again with passengers from June 26th to August 26th, there were 452 confirmed cases of coronavirus on the cruise ships.

Regarding the Norwegian Breakaway, expect the number of COVID-19 cases to rise as all of the passengers (and crew members) undergo testing.

The CDC has warned against traveling on cruise ships during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, saying the “chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high because the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”

NCL’s stock (NCLH) has steadily declined from over $32 to $18 over the last six month as the pandemic continues. The stock dropped from a high of over $60 to below $8 after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The stock dropped ten points from $28 to $18 in the last month as cruise lines and the travel industry struggle with the emergence of the Omicron variant which is now in the U.S.

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December 5, 2021 Sunday Evening (9:00 P.M.) Update: Additional testing revealed another seven COVID-19 cases on the Norwegian Breakaway, bringing the total to seventeen cases, according to WDSU. “State health officials also said Sunday that one of the 10 cases previously reported involves the emerging Omicron variant. That case involves a crew member who is not a Louisiana resident.” It is unclear what interaction this infected crew member had with guests on the ship. Was he a waiter or cabin attendant? NCL isn’t saying.

The cruise ship remains in New Orleans as of 9:00 P.M. this evening, according to MarineTrafiic AIS.

December 5, 2021 Update: NCL told told local TV outlet CBS 4WWL that the crew member is from South Africa and allegely was under quarantine during the cruise in question.

December 7, 2010 Update: The AP states that the infection involved “nine crew members and eight passengers.”

Photo credit: Ad Meskens – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia

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