At least seven passengers from the first cruise ship to set sail in the Caribbean since the start of the pandemic have tested positive for the coronavirus – but the captain of the SeaDream announced on Friday that anyone without COVID-19 could be free to leave the ship from Saturday.
Three of the 53 passengers on board told the Daily Beast that, moments after confirming the seventh diagnosis on Friday, the captain said negative passengers may be free to return home on Saturday. No details were given on when and how the passengers would disembark.
The COVID-positive group consists of five family members from the United States and a couple. While those infected are said to have mild symptoms, at least one has been taken to hospital.
“This is actually good news and bad news,” Gene Sloan, cruise editor for The Points Guy who is on the ship said Friday. “Barbados authorities and the ship’s captain do not believe the coronavirus has spread beyond these two groups. What they said this morning is that it looks like they’re going to let the negative people get off the ship as early as tomorrow. This means negative passengers can travel and return home tomorrow without being quarantined. “
And for Ben and David Hewitt-McDonald, who run a YouTube channel and blog about their travels, the option to leave their cabin after five days of quarantine is welcome.
“Just a little cabin fever!” The couple said on Friday, adding that the ship planned to also leave negative passengers “on deck today to get some fresh air.”
But experts disagree on the decision to allow passengers who have tested negative in tests administered by both the ship and the Barbados authorities to disembark without any quarantine plan.
Dr Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security specializing in infectious diseases, told The Daily Beast that it is important to allow COVID-negative passengers to leave the ship to ensure the ship does not does not facilitate more cases.
“After seeing things like the Diamond Princess, where the ship was inundated with crates after being a sitting duck, it is important that the passengers who tested [negative] get off the ship, ”Adalja said, referring to one of two cruises where outbreaks of COVID-19 earlier in the year resulted in ten deaths and more than 800 infections. “There isn’t a situation where you weren’t getting any crates in a small space like this, but it looks like the ship handled it in the best possible way.
The CDC banned cruises in March but issued new guidelines in October to help an industry crippled by the pandemic to safely resume operations.
The SeaDream’s seven-day trip marked the first time it has returned to the West Indies since the start of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 240,000 Americans.
“I don’t think you can compare the current situation to that of Princess Diamond,” Adalja said. “The mitigation measures that were underway on the ship show that they were doing all they could. There is always a risk when people are close to each other, whether it’s a cruise or the Staten Island ferry. That’s the problem with the mix during this ongoing pandemic.
The SeaDream left Barbados on Saturday with 53 passengers and 66 crew. He had traveled to St. Vincent, Canouan Island, Tobago Cays and Union Island, and was due to end on Saturday.
However, four days after the trip began, a passenger told crew members he was feeling unwell. The captain made an announcement for all guests to return to their quarantined rooms before immediately returning the ship to Barbados.
“The quarantine procedures were implemented immediately, we were all urged to return immediately to our cabins to self-isolate,” said the Hewitt-McDonalds. “The captain makes very regular announcements over the loudspeakers in each cabin. He also personally called each booth and invited to check if they were okay.
Passengers told the Daily Beast that the ship’s swift response reflected rigorous pre-cruise protocol. Each passenger was to test negative 72 hours before boarding and again once on board. The goal was to “create a negative COVID-19 bubble” on the ship, SeaDream said in September when announcing 22 Caribbean cruises.
Masks were initially optional but, after some complaints from passengers, they were later made mandatory.
“The first few days of the trip were pretty normal,” Sloan said, adding that passengers were encouraged to move away and everything was disinfected regularly. “The passengers on board were really delighted to resume the cruise.”
He said everyone was tested several times during the trip and at every stop they were told not to interact with locals and were transported to empty beaches and resorts.
Since the mandatory cabin quarantine began, passengers have been tested at least twice – once with a rapid test performed by an Abbott ID NOW testing machine on board, and then with a second PCR lab test by the service local health center in Barbados.
But Dr Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, which provides medical advice to companies with clients traveling overseas, warns that the accuracy of any COVID-19 test “can vary widely.[ly]. “
“Of course, being able to get quick test results is very handy and you really can’t use PCR tests in a cruise ship scenario because it just takes too long. However, the downside is that you inevitably sacrifice precision, ”he told The Daily Beast. No test is 100% accurate, “not even the gold standard RT-PCR test,” he says.
“There have certainly been documented cases that have shown that Abbott ID NOW can miss infections 20-30% of the time – sometimes it’s because they are not used exactly as directed, and Abbott asserted that they operate in the middle -80 to 90 mid-high, ”he added.
Despite possible inaccuracies, Hyzler said that while the passengers have tested negative multiple times, “it is reasonable to assume that they are not ‘infectious’ at the time of travel” and that they could return home. . He said studies have shown planes are safe if masks are worn, and people “should feel confident” that passengers will return home if they have tested negative twice.
“This does not mean that they are not ‘infected’ … They may test themselves again when they go home and come back with a positive result,” he said. declared. “This is due to the incubation period for COVID-19 of 5-7 days, and generally 2-12 days at large – there are of course some outliers.”
The SeaDream did not immediately respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment on the decision to disembark passengers on Saturday.
The three passengers who spoke to the Daily Beast on Friday were extremely grateful to the ship’s crew, but said they were ready to go.
“If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, it’s probably because I’m on a flight home,” Sloan said with a laugh. “I’m ready to get out of here.”
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