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Congress Investigates Cruises as Coronavirus Super Spreaders

December 21, 2020 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — A congressional committee is pressuring the Centers for Disease Control to deliver more information on the role of cruise ships in spreading coronavirus.

Cruise operators like Carnival Corp. are accused of marketing their tourist ships as being safe despite growing evidence they turned into super spreaders for accelerating the pandemic.

Congress is investigating reports that more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases have erupted aboard the company’s ships, causing dozens of passenger and crew member deaths.

The result has been lawsuits, interrupted travel schedules not expected to resume before late spring 2021, financial disaster for the cruise lines and now impatient members of Congress.

“The documents are a key part of the Committee’s ongoing oversight efforts regarding the actions taken by both the Carnival Corporation and the CDC in response to the threat of COVID-19 on cruise ships,” leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a statement.

Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., wrote a letter to the CDC in May asking for documents that might show whether Carnival knew the risks of continuing their tourist cruises. He wrote a second letter last week expressing annoyance over a slow response.

The documents the committee seeks reflect its “concern that Carnival and its nine affiliated cruise lines were ignoring the public health threat of the pandemic in its public-facing marketing materials,” the lawmakers’ statement says.

The most recent letter also was addressed to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is participating in the investigation of cruise lines.

Adding to the congressmen’s fervor is a death toll and infection rate from COVID-19 hitting records almost daily. There were more than 17.3 million infections reported in the United States by Friday afternoon with more than 311,000 deaths.

For the cruise line industry, they have either chosen, or been ordered by government regulators, to cease operations until the pandemic subsides.

The CDC issued a “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” in October that requires a phased approach for safe resumption of passenger cruises.

The cruise ship operators first must demonstrate they are following CDC guidelines on COVID-19 testing, quarantine and isolation of potentially infected persons. Later stages would include mock voyages with volunteers posing as passengers to test cruise ships’ ability to control COVID-19 risks.

The ships will need certification to show they meet CDC requirements before they can return to regular passenger voyages.

The phased approach “will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement.

Carnival Corp. said on its website that the company plans to cooperate with the CDC guidelines but acknowledged the complexities created by the pandemic.

The CDC’s order produces “a significant number of requirements that must be evaluated in the context of our plans to resume operations,” the Carnival statement says.

Members of Congress suggested in their letter to the CDC that they will continue to make health concerns their top priority.

“As members of Congress and senior federal officials, we are all ultimately accountable to the American public,” the letter says.

Meanwhile, losses are mounting quickly for passenger cruise lines. The trade group Cruise Lines International Association is projecting their industry will lose more than $32 billion and 254,000 American jobs in 2020. In 2019, the industry was thriving.

Carnival and other passenger cruise companies are expecting additional losses from lawsuits.

In one widely reported case, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line is facing a wrongful death lawsuit after a 27-year-old crew member died from the virus on the Celebrity Infinity ship. Two other sickened crew members had to be airlifted off another Royal Caribbean ship.

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