RCL & NCLH's Healthy Sail Panel Files CDC Recommendations

The Healthy Sail Panel, created in June 2020 by Royal Caribbean Group (RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) to bring together top medical and scientific experts to address the COVID-19 situation and safe sailing protocols, has filed its recommendations with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The panelists are experts in medical practice and research, public health, infectious diseases, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations. The panel is chaired by Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The panel’s 65-plus-page report includes 74 detailed best practices to protect the public health and safety of guests, crew and the communities where cruise ships call. Recommendations include testing, the use of face coverings and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals.

Today, a joint press release by the cruise companies said: "By relentlessly focusing on prevention and other measures—including the testing of guests and crew members, public health risks associated with the pandemic can be mitigated in a cruise ship environment."

“The Healthy Sail Panel spent the last four months studying how to better protect the health and safety of guests and crew aboard cruise ships,” said Dr. Gottlieb. “Taken as a comprehensive approach, we believe the panel’s robust public health recommendations will help inform strategies for a safe resumption of sailing.”

The recommendations were submitted today in response to the CDC's request for public comment; Monday September 21, is the last day for comment. Data gathered will be used to create future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to cruise ship travel.

Specific Recommendations

The Healthy Sail Panel identified five areas of focus every cruise operator should address to improve health and safety for guests and crew and to reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships:

  • Testing, screening and exposure reduction
  • Sanitation and ventilation
  • Response, contingency planning and execution
  • Destination and excursion planning
  • Mitigating risks for crew members

In each category, the Healthy Sail Panel created practical and actionable recommendations to address specific safety concerns. Among the recommendations are such strategies as: 

  • Taking aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation
  • Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices
  • Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection onboard, including contingencies for onboard treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation
  • Closely controlling shore excursions
  • Enhanced protection for crew members

Travel advisors can read the full Healthy Sail Panel report, which details the specific recommendations under the categories listed above.  

From Leavitt's perspective: "This panel undertook an ambitious, cross-disciplinary, public health examination to develop standards and guidelines that create the highest level of safety in the complex environment of a cruise ship. We studied the industry’s experiences combating the pandemic—and we then incorporated the many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months."

He also said the panel's recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail.

Individual Plans Still to Come

Richard Fain, RCL's chairman and CEO, and Frank Del Rio, NCLH's chairman and CEO, said each company will use the panel’s recommendations to help foster the development of new, detailed operating protocols submitted to both the CDC and other authorities across the globe. The companies' press release called that "a milestone in the process of resuming sailing."

“We understand our responsibility to act aggressively to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, as well as the communities where we sail, and we asked the panel to help us learn how to best live up to that responsibility,” said Fain. “We were inspired by the depth of the Panel’s work and their determination to help us establish the strongest protocols in the travel industry.”

Del Rio  “The Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations are robust and comprehensive, and they reflect the intense focus the panelists brought to their work. We know that both authorities around the globe and consumers expect cruise lines to provide the safest, healthiest vacations we can, and this work demonstrates our commitment to doing just that.”

RCL and NCLH, however, are expected to submit separate plans—utilizing these recommendations—to the CDC. The panel’s work is also open sourced for others to incorporate in their protocols, and Leavitt and Gottlieb expressed appreciation that authorities and other cruise companies had already engaged in the panel’s work as observers.

Last Day for Comment

As today is the last day for comments to the CDC about the resumption of cruising, Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International's president and CEO, issued a plea over the weekend on his Facebook page for people to comment at the CDC site:  

"On Monday the 21st, the CDC closes the request for public comment regarding healthy return to cruising. There have been over 3,000 comments, many of which have been very constructive and it has been incredible to hear from you all. Recently, a small anti-cruise group has lobbied their supporters to comment on cruise beyond the CDC remit. If you have a passion for cruising and the wonderful memories you have created sailing the oceans of the world, please visit and comment today: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=CDC-2020-0087-0001"

Separately, while the COVID-19 situation has sizably impacted the industry, the deals in the industry are still attracting cruisers. NCLH also filed a second document with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) about bookings. The company said that "on September 21, 2020, Oceania Cruises announced that it had set a record for bookings during a holiday promotion with its Labor Day upgrade sale."

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