Passenger Aboard First Cruise Ship to Return to Sailing in Caribbean Tests Positive for COVID-19
Passengers and non-essential crew are now isolating in their cabins as the ship heads back toward its departure point in Barbados
The number of passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the first cruise ship to return to sailing in the Caribbean since the beginning of the pandemic has jumped to five, according to the Points Guy reporter Gene Sloan, who is on the boat.
Those infected now represent just under 10% of the 53 guests on the voyage.
After a single positive case was identified on Wednesday, the SeaDream Yacht Club ship SeaDream 1 cut its planned 7-day voyage short and had returned to its home port in Barbados by that night.
Doctors on board began testing the 60 crew members, who were all negative, and medical personnel carried on testing passengers after they docked, reportedly uncovering the additional cases. Passengers remain quarantined on board as of Thursday afternoon.
Sondre Skjelvik / Getty SeaDream 1 at a port in Norway in August 2020
In a statement shared with PEOPLE on Thursday, the cruise company acknowledged there were multiple cases, but did not disclose a number, noting: "SeaDream I has paused its current Caribbean voyage and returned to Barbados after guests’ tests for Covid-19 returned assumptive positive results."
Sloan reports that the ship's captain, Torbjorn Lund, announced over the intercom that the additional cases were in the same traveling party and had been in close contact with the original passenger to test positive.
Gene Sloan for The Points Guy Sea Dream Yacht Club's SeaDream 1
After the discovery of the first case, all passengers and non-essential crew were asked to immediately return to their cabins to isolate "in an abundance of caution," the cruise company said.
"Immediately after performing the preliminary rapid Covid test onboard and receiving the assumptive positive results, SeaDream advised local health authorities and set in motion its Covid response protocols to protect guests and crew. The ship’s medical staff has tested all crew members and all tests have come back negative. SeaDream is currently re-testing all guests," its statement details.
Everyone on the ship had already been tested several days before departing, the day of their departure, and again several days into the trip, according to Sloan.
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Cruise companies halted all sailings in the Caribbean last spring as the pandemic took hold in North America, individual countries enacted stringent travel restrictions, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a "no-sail order."
"This is a blow to the cruise industry's efforts to restart operations in the Caribbean," Sloan told PEOPLE. "SeaDream's return to cruising in the Caribbean was a watershed moment for the industry, and many were hoping it would go smoothly."
The CDC's initial no-sail order was put in place on March 14 and was intended to last 30 days. At the time, several cruise ships across the world had become sources of major coronavirus outbreaks.
One ship, the Grand Princess, was quarantined off San Francisco after 21 people on board tested positive for the virus in March. Another, the Holland America, reported four dead and 233 ill on two of its ships heading for Ft. Lauderdale in March after being turned away from ports in South America.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Grand Princess docked in Oakland, CA, in March with at least 21 people who tested positive for COVID-19 on board.
In October, the CDC announced it would lift its no-sail order as of November 1 after eight months, with a set of strict new health and safety protocols for cruise operators.
The agency is also requiring all ships that pass through U.S. waters and can carry more than 250 passengers to run mock voyages with volunteer passengers and crew on board in order to "test cruise ship operators' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk" before returning to regular service. (The SeaDream 1 only carries 112 guests.)
"This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live," CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D said in a press release. "CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers."
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