For years infectious disease experts have been warning that cruise ships oftentimes amount to floating Petri dishes. The vessels have long been the site of frequent outbreaks of norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses, which have spread to up to 700 passengers on some voyages. While norovirus is very unpleasant, it usually only causes death in rare cases. But with the advent of the deadly novel coronavirus, cruise ships must do everything possible to ensure that outbreaks become a thing of the past.
USAToday.com reports that coronavirus struck at least 20 cruise ships that called on the U.S., and many more ships worldwide. So how does the industry turn the tide when it already has a history of illness outbreaks? One suggestion is more aggressive quarantining of sick passengers. But this in itself would only have a moderate effect on disease spread, says as 2015 study quoted in the report.
Claire Panosian Dunavan, professor of medicine emeritus in the infectious diseases division of UCLA's School of Medicine, says that while other experts were focused on gastrointestinal illnesses like norovirus, she was more concerned about respiratory illnesses like coronavirus. But as to how the cruise industry should go about preventing another tragedy, there are currently no clear answers. "It's an inherently high-risk setting," she said.
Despite the high hurdles, cruise companies are going to have to try everything in their power to devise a solution. These measures could include everything from upgrading their air filtration systems to implementing stricter sanitation protocols. One such protocol is the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), which the cruise industry calls the gold standard of vessel sanitation. But even these measures do not seem to be enough to combat coronavirus.