Seattle cruise industry’s post-COVID comeback marked by outbreak
Just days after what was supposed to be Seattle’s cruise industry comeback from COVID-19, a cruise ship visited Elliott Bay carrying dozens of passengers with the disease.
Tuesday’s arrival of the stricken Carnival Spirit was an inauspicious inauguration for an industry that pumped nearly $1 billion into the state’s economy before COVID and whose return is seen as key to the revival of the downtown Seattle.
Carnival Cruise Line declined to say how many of Spirit’s roughly 3,000 passengers have tested positive for coronavirus.
A Carnival spokesperson said in an email Wednesday alone that the ship’s crew “managed a number of COVID cases” during the voyage from Miami through the Panama Canal. “There were no serious health issues, and while some guests showed minor symptoms, most were asymptomatic,” spokesman Matt Lupoli said.
But some passengers on the 16-day voyage said there were more than 100 cases on board and the outbreak “overwhelmed” the crew, according to media and social media reports.
“They didn’t have enough staff to handle the emergency that was happening, period,” passenger Darren Sieferston told KING 5. “They were overwhelmed and they didn’t have a backup course on how to manage approximately 200 people affected by COVID. We have all suffered.
On Facebook, a person who claimed to have been a passenger on the Spirit said he spent 11 days in quarantine and did not leave the ship’s isolation area during the Panama Canal trip to Seattle. Another said she and her husband wanted to continue to Alaska, but instead were bused to a hotel in Seattle where the workers were unaware they were arriving. Another passenger said the cases were “well handled” and those who tested positive were isolated from other passengers. The Seattle Times could not independently verify any of these details.
Carnival officials did not comment on the passenger reports. They said the company was providing “transportation and lodging assistance for customers who were required to quarantine in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.” These passengers would be staying at hotels in the Seattle area.
According to the CDC, the Carnival Spirit outbreak has reached the threshold for a CDC investigation, meaning 0.3% or more of the ship’s 3,054 passengers and crew have tested positive for COVID. The agency considered the ship to be “highly vaccinated”, with 95% or more of travelers vaccinated against COVID-19.
Of the 92 cruise ships operating in U.S. waters, 76 have reported at least one case of COVID among passengers or crew, according to the CDC’s Cruise Dashboard. Carnival has 22 cruises in operation; all but four have positive cases.
Carnival participates in a CDC program that requires the cruise line to enter into an agreement with the local health agency and port authority of the cities each ship visits. Carnival has an agreement with Public Health – Seattle & King County, spokeswoman Kate Cole said in an email.
As part of the agreement, the cruise line must have plans in place with a local medical care provider and quarantine facilities to avoid straining local medical and isolation or quarantine facilities.
The outbreak aboard the Spirit comes a day after Carnival and Port of Seattle officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the cruise season after two years of reduced sailings due to COVID.
Many Seattle-area businesses that depend on tourists, especially downtown hotels and restaurants and vendors in Pike Place Market, rely on a full cruise season to make up for lost revenue.
Thanks to an abbreviated cruise season and fewer sailings in 2021, Seattle’s cruise industry had about 227,000 passengers, a fifth of the 2019 total, according to the Port of Seattle.
A day after arriving in Seattle, the Spirit departed for Tracy Arm, Alaska, and at noon Wednesday was just west of Brooks Bay, British Columbia, according to marinetraffic.com. The Spirit is scheduled to return to Seattle on May 10.
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