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Cruises are smashing records despite covid on board: ‘Life goes on’

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Linda Klauschie, 68, was ready last month to take her first cruise since 2019 — but she also assumed her ship would probably have coronavirus cases on board.

So Klauschie, a retired mental health counselor from Albuquerque who is vaccinated and double-boosted, took precautions: She wore a KN95 mask to fly to and from New Orleans, where her back-to-back week-long cruises on the Carnival Glory started. She skipped the buffet when lines were long, kept a distance from other passengers whenever possible, wore a mask during shows and spent a lot of time taking the stairs.

“I took the elevator, in two weeks, all of three times,” she said. “Luckily I’ve been doing aerobics … so it didn’t kill me.”

Passengers such as Klauschie — as well as some newcomers — are fueling the U.S. cruise recovery after a 15-month shutdown. Nearly a year after sailings from North America restarted, three of the world’s largest cruise lines will have their full fleets in service as of next week. And some cruise giants have reported record-breaking bookings.

Carnival passengers quarantine in Seattle after outbreak on cruise

But even as the cruise comeback gains momentum, the coronavirus remains a stubborn reality. While case numbers are far from the highs seen during the surge of the omicron variant, the majority of ships sailing in U.S. waters are under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of coronavirus outbreaks.

According to data updated Friday, the CDC’s cruise ship status report shows that 76 of 92 ships have reported cases of the coronavirus on board. Of those, 11 were below the threshold for a CDC investigation, which is triggered when cases are reported in 0.3 percent or more of total passengers and crew. That means 65 ships met the requirements to trigger an investigation.

By comparison, in early January, all 92 passenger-carrying ships in U.S. waters had met the threshold for investigation. The CDC warned all passengers to avoid cruise ships in late December amid the omicron spike, but it removed all warnings in late March.

Public health experts have warned that cruise ships are especially vulnerable to the spread of the disease because of the large number of people gathered in tight quarters over a sustained period of time.

“Cruise travel will always pose risk, and vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19, including severe illness, hospitalization, and death,” the CDC’s website says.

Princess cruise ship has 253 coronavirus cases in 5 weeks

Some passengers are experiencing that risk firsthand, news reports show: Some passengers who tested positive during a Panama Canal sailing on a Carnival ship had to isolate in their rooms and in Seattle hotels at the end of the trip. One Princess Cruises ship that has visited Alaska and Hawaii had 253 cases across multiple sailings between late March and late April, public health officials said.

Major cruise lines require passengers to be vaccinated, with rare exceptions, and to test negative before a cruise. The CDC considers a ship “highly vaccinated” if 90 percent of passengers are immunized — a recent change from 95 percent. While pandemic-era public health rules, including vaccination and testing requirements, are now recommendations, cruise lines have agreed to voluntarily follow them.

Because of those protocols, many passengers say they are comfortable with the risk.

“I think we’ve gotten to the point where no one expects that they’ll go anywhere and be perfectly insulated from covid,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news and review site Cruise Critic. “I think people are making life decisions with that in mind: ‘What level am I willing to submit…

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