The global cruise industry expected to carry 32 million passengers and taken $71 billion in revenue this year. This will fall by at least 50% this year.

Euromonitor International

According to a recent article in USA Today, cruising has been postponed until September 15, but there are a lot of us former fans who won’t be dockside again until there’s a vaccine.

Their entire business model is based on large group social activity. Americans’ failure to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines pretty much guarantees that we’d party like frat boys given the opportunity to hop aboard.

No, thanks.

We were huge fans of the cruise travel business, in part because of our proximity to the industry’s South Florida base. We can be dockside in an hour’s drive, feeling very grateful to avoid the hassles of flying and overnight stays in order to be ready to board. We’ve had great Caribbean trips out of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

But it’s images like this one that will keep us off ships until there is a vaccine.

As part of their response to the pandemic, cruise lines are looking to explore enhanced passenger and crew screening, social distancing, modifying or eliminating buffet dining options, enhanced medical capability, new training for crew members and pre-arranged medical evacuation options with consideration to local health care.

Notice how the medical capability line is buried in their press kit?

In an article that puts a Happy Face on reality, USA Today said that cruisers are ready to resume their seagoing lifestyle. The conditions required to reopen the industry do not include equipping ships with rigorous medical facilities. Damn the virus, full speed ahead.

Prior to last year, we hadn’t given a cruise ship’s medical support a whole lot of thought. We knew of ships on which illness had become rampant, but we sanitized early and often. I came down with a bad cold on the Baltic Sea, but that seemed a small price for such a stellar tour.

It was not until last year’s fateful Atlantic crossing, destination Amsterdam, that the medical risks became crystal clear.

We sailed easily through the first week and made our first landfall in Portugal’s Azores.

But by the time we pulled away from the Azores headed to mainland Europe, my husband had caught a bad cold, and it quickly blossomed into full blown bronchitis with a wracking cough that prevented him from sleeping. The ship’s doctor gave him aspirin and lozenges, recommending he seek medical attention ashore for anything stronger. He also mentioned that about half the ship had bronchitis.

In Amsterdam, my husband got medication.

[However, I became a patient when an undiagnosed abdominal aneurysm ruptured. Had I taken ill two hours later, we would have been back aboard the ship. I would not have made it.]

But, back to this story. Bronchitis is downright benign compared to coronavirus.

In February, cruise ships became an early symbol of how rapidly the coronavirus could spread in confined spaces, when more than 700 passengers on the Diamond Princess became infected as the ship idled off Japan. As social distancing grew more common in February and early March, cruises were among the first activities Americans started avoiding.

David Yaffe- Bellany, NYT

By March 13, the last day we were out in the world as we knew it, Americans were shocked by the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and complied with government’s stay-at-home orders. I wrote that hopping on a cruise ship with limited medical support was unthinkable. Two months later, Governor Ron DeSantis announced Florida was re-opening. I wrote that the data simply didn’t support that decision, that we were flying blind into the storm. And here we are, another two months into the pandemic and Florida’s cases are growing at record rates, causing other states to impose quarantines on travelers who would venture out. Florida’s failures part of the reason that Americans are being blocked from travel to Europe.

Vacationing seems awfully far away.

One of the things that we’ve seen from crises in general is that the industry is very resilient and that we rebound fairly quickly.

Laurie Pennington Gray, Tourism Crisis Management Initiative

Norwegian is installing medical grade air filters and adding medical staff. Carnival is raising the temperature in its washers and dryers to make sure napkins and sheets are fully sanitized. They are staggering boarding times, expanding dining times ,eliminating buffets, requiring masks.

They are also incentivizing group behavior with offers of free food, free drinks, free shore excursions.

And, only now, there is mention of improving medical capacity on board.

In a recent article for the Miami Herald, reporter Taylor Dolven writes that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have organized a panel of experts to develop safety protocols for the COVID-19 era when (if?) cruising resumes.

The industry is operating its ships — with no guests and reduced staff — under protocols for limiting the spread of COVID-19 control monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With mask-wearing, social distancing, and quarantine in place, nearly a quarter of the ships now at sea still have confirmed cases aboard.

It astounds me that it has taken six months of pandemic for this business- and life-saving collaboration to arise, and that the initiative does not include all the businesses in the industry. And that it is only now that I am seeing the mention of ventilators.

The guest profile on typical cruise ship voyages matches those at greatest risk for severe illness which may require hospitalization and need for respiratory support.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

My heart goes out to cruise staff who must remain aboard. For the rest of us, let’s stay ashore.

It seems like a logistical nightmare to me.

Tara Smith, Professor of Epidemiology, Kent State University

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