Royal Caribbean Reports 48 COVID Cases Aboard Symphony of the Seas

symphony of the seas
File image courtesy Royal Caribbean

Published Dec 20, 2021 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

About 48 people have tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Symphony of the Seas, the company confirmed Monday. 

Symphony of the Seas departed Miami on December 11 for a weeklong trip to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and a private island resort, Perfect Day at Coco Cay. During her return trip to Miami, 44 cases of COVID-19 were identified, and the positive individuals were quarantined on board. An additional four close contacts tested positive at the end of the voyage, bringing the total number to 48 (about 0.8 percent of the 6,000-plus people on board). 

"Each person quickly went into quarantine," Royal Caribbean said in a statement. "Everyone who tested positive were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and we continuously monitored their health."

98 percent of the people who tested positive were fully vaccinated for COVID-19, Royal Caribbean said. The company generally requires all passengers over the age of 12 to have completed a full course of vaccination before boarding, with very limited exceptions, and about 95 percent of all personnel on board during last week's cruise were fully vaccinated. 

According to Royal Caribbean, one passenger who embarked on the same ship on an earlier voyage has tested positive for the omicron variant, which has shown a greater propensity for breakthrough cases in vaccinated patients. The variant responsible for the breakthrough infections on the Dec. 11 cruise has not yet been confirmed. 

Even before the emergence of omicron, breakthrough cases aboard cruise ships have occurred in small numbers. Between mid-June and mid-October, about 1,300 passengers came down with COVID-19 on board U.S.-based cruise ships, according to the CDC. About 50 were hospitalized and one individual passed away. In November, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told the Washington Post that the 1,300 infections represent a small fraction of the 600,000 people who set sail on its members' cruise ships between the summer restart and the fall. 

On Saturday, both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean said that they would significantly increase their masking requirements for passengers and crew, citing the spread of omicron. 

"With the recent uptick of COVID-19 in the world and added omicron variant concerns, we feel it prudent to temporarily tighten our onboard health protocols to require masks indoors at all times, unless actively eating or drinking," Royal Caribbean said. "This new update also applies to vaccinated areas and venues."