Two people onboard a Celebrity Cruises ship of reportedly fully vaccinated passengers and crew have tested positive for COVID-19. This latest COVID-19 cruise incident occurred on a weeklong Caribbean cruise that set sail from the island of St. Maarten on Saturday, June 5—the first return voyage for Celebrity and one of the first North American cruises in over a year, the company says.
The two travelers received a positive result during mandatory end-of-cruise testing before the Celebrity Millennium returns to port in St. Maarten on Saturday, June 12, according to a Thursday, June 10 statement from the Royal Caribbean Group (parent company of Celebrity Cruises). Both passengers, who had been sharing a stateroom, are asymptomatic, remaining in isolation, and being monitored by the ship’s medical staff, the cruise line says. Celebrity is also conducting contact tracing and expedited testing for close contacts of the two passengers.
The Royal Caribbean Group did not confirm the vaccination status of the two infected individuals, but according to their statement all guests aboard the ship were required to show proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before the ship set sail.
While the statement says that “Celebrity Millennium is sailing with fully vaccinated crew and guests,” this does not necessarily include children under the age of 16. According to the Celebrity Cruises page on health and safety, “All guests 16 years and older must be fully vaccinated with all COVID-19 vaccine doses administered at least 14 days prior to sailing,” and “unvaccinated children will be required to take a complimentary test at the terminal” prior to boarding. (Starting August 1, all Celebrity Cruises passengers ages 12 and over must be fully vaccinated, following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for kids as young as 12, and the expectation that the agency may give the Moderna vaccine a similar authorization in the coming weeks.)
Although cruise ship passengers are required to follow local mandates at destination ports (in Aruba, Curaçao, and Barbados), masks were not required once onboard the Millennium, according to a June 5 press release from Celebrity. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask order remains in effect within the U.S., the CDC has also given cruise ship operators the discretion to tell passengers and crew that they do not have to wear masks or maintain physical distance anywhere on the ship—as long as at least 95% of crew members and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. And while Celebrity did not disclose the Millennium’s capacity rate, the company says its ships are “sailing with fewer guests for more space.”
While it’s not exactly clear what happened in this scenario, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more similar COVID-19 cruise stories as the hard-hit industry makes its comeback. Breakthrough COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated individuals are very rare but expected, as SELF has reported. In May, the CDC published data showing that out of 101 million people who were fully vaccinated by the end of April, only 10,262 breakthrough infections were identified—a post-vaccination breakthrough rate of 0.01%. Among these cases, 27% were asymptomatic, 10% required hospitalization, and 2% resulted in death.
Celebrity Cruises is also set to make its first departure from U.S. waters later this month. The Washington Post reports that a fully vaccinated ship operating at reduced capacity is scheduled to leave from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on June 26, after receiving approval to do so from the CDC.