A Norwegian Cruise Line ship docked in New Orleans over the weekend with at least 17 passengers and crew members infected with the coronavirus, according to local health officials, including one probable case of the omicron variant among the crew.
The Norwegian Breakaway departed from New Orleans on Nov. 28 with more than 3,200 people aboard and stopped in Belize, Honduras and Mexico on its voyage, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a statement Saturday. The statement did not say whether the passengers were tested for the coronavirus before the trip, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises cruise-goers to get tested one to three days in advance.
The cruise company said that it requires all passengers and crew members to have been vaccinated before departure, and that the cases represent only a “handful” of the thousands of people on the ship. It described their infections as “asymptomatic.”
Even so, the outbreak highlights that despite cruise lines’ efforts to impose strict public health rules, the virus is still finding a way on board. And public health rules that dictate how cruise ships can operate in U.S. waters during the pandemic are due to become only recommendations in mid-January.
Cruise ships were an early source of outbreaks last year, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a no-sail order in March 2020. As the government allowed cruises to resume with some restrictions, ships added vaccine requirements, testing rules, capacity limits and mask mandates.
A report by the CDC last month showed that more than a thousand cases had been discovered on cruises in the United States since sailing resumed following the industry-wide shutdown.
Many of those involved breakthrough infections of people who were fully vaccinated. Between June 26 and Oct. 21, operators reported 49 hospitalizations and 38 medical evacuations for covid-19 or covid-like illnesses. At least one person died after testing positive during a cruise.
Louisiana health officials said Saturday the cruise company had been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols as the cases were identified on the vessel.
Everyone was tested for the virus before the end of the cruise, the officials said, and those who tested positive either traveled directly home or were required to self-isolate according to CDC guidelines in accommodations provided by the cruise company. The crew member with the probable case of the omicron variant didn’t leave the ship, officials said.
Local media outlets reported, however, that some disembarking passengers were unaware of the outbreak until they were told about it by a reporter.
“We didn’t hear of this until we kind of heard you talking a second ago,” Don Canole, a passenger from North Carolina, told WVUE-TV in New Orleans. “It would have been nice to have known. We would have taken maybe a few more precautions.”