A Canadian passenger aboard the Caribbean Princess says there was “lots of COVID-19” on the cruise ship, which has cancelled its scheduled stops in Victoria and Vancouver this week.
Princess Cruises confirmed Monday there were COVID-19 cases aboard the vessel, although it did not disclose the number. It said it left Florida with its 1,600 guests and crew “100% vaccinated.”
Ally Carol of Richmond, who boarded the ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with her partner in late March for a 19-day cruise to Canada, said the 12th floor of the ship was used as an isolation ward.
The two had planned to return home after the ship docked in Vancouver on April 7, but have now booked a flight from San Francisco after the cruise was cut short.
“There are active cases in cabins throughout the ship as well, and they [aren’t telling] anyone. They say it is a privacy issue and they can’t share with anyone, but medical teams in protective gear are seen going to rooms.”
The Caribbean Princess was supposed to be the first cruise ship to dock in Canada after two years of pandemic restrictions when it arrived at Ogden Point on Wednesday.
But the Canadian leg of the journey was abruptly cancelled late Friday. In a statement over the weekend, Princess Cruises said it wanted extra time to prepare for dry dock near Portland, Oregon, so the vessel was ready for the “busy summer season.”
In another statement to the Times Colonist on Monday, however, Princess Cruises acknowledged that COVID19 cases were discovered as the voyage from Florida progressed. “During the cruise … we identified some positive COVID-19 cases amongst our guests and and crew members,” said Princess spokeswoman Negin Kamali.
The company did not disclose the number of cases on the ship, saying they were all asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic and were quarantined while they were being monitored and cared for by the shipboard medical team.
Princess Cruises said it worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Guests who tested positive and did not complete the isolation period either returned home via private transportation or were provided accommodations on shore that had been co-ordinated in advance for isolation and quarantine.
The ship has been listed by the CDC as having “orange status,” which means there are enough COVID-19 cases aboard to meet the threshold for a CDC investigation. The CDC launches a probe when least 0.3 per cent of passengers and crew aboard the ship have tested positive.
Carol said she and her partner were aware of the orange status when boarding the ship, but she believes the case count was rising.
Another passenger, who did not want his last name used, said he was on the 12th floor of the ship and confirmed about a quarter of the floor was being used as an isolation ward.
“Things I think they should have done better was more frequent testing or even sample testing if cases rose,” said Derek, who is from Denver. Although everyone comes on the ship vaccinated, they can easily be exposed to the virus on one of the excursions off the boat, he said. The ship had at least four stops or excursions.
“Masks were not required … once they started requiring them, we knew it must be serious.”
Of the 104 cruise ships opting into the CDC’s COVID-19 protection and inspection plan, 38 have orange status, including Holland America Line’s Koningsdam, which arrives to open the cruise season in Victoria this Saturday.
The CDC said 101 of the 104 ships on its list are considered “highly vaccinated,” but not a single ship reaches its “standard of excellence” of 95 per cent of passengers and crew fully vaccinated with two doses and a booster, if eligible.
Cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, the CDC said.
Carol, who booked a flight home to Vancouver on Monday, said the cruise company has been very tight-lipped about the presence of COVID cases onboard.
“People have been at the guest services desk demanding to know how many sick people and they won’t tell you anything,” she said. “They just say: ‘Oh, a certain bartender or waitress you have seen all week [is] feeling under the weather’ when you see that they are gone. The captain has not made any announcements.
“They say they are going to dry dock early, but we all know it is COVID. They have not said this, but we on the ship all believe this.”
Carol said the crew were tested on Friday, and that’s when passengers got a letter “shoved under our doors at 11 p.m.” that the rest of the cruise to Canada was being cancelled.
She said passengers were set to be tested by the cruise line on the ship on Saturday, but those tests were cancelled when the trip was cut short.
“We showed up for our test and they said no tests,” Carol said. “So knowing they have COVID on the ship, instead of doing the responsible thing and testing all the guests going back to Canada, they are just disembarking all of us and sending us home, putting us in planes next to unsuspecting members of the public, instead of responsibly checking to see who caught COVID on their ship.”
Carol said she and her partner tested negative on Sunday.
Derek, the Denver passenger, also tested negative with a self test. He said although Princess made arrangements for all passengers to get home — paying for flights and other expenses as well as reimbursing a portion of their tickets — he thinks it was “irresponsible” to send people to San Francisco airports without knowing who had COVID.