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First cruise ship to Hawaiʻi in 2 years arrives with positive COVID-19 cases in isolation

Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Honolulu on Jan. 9, 2022.
Catherine Cruz
Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Honolulu on Jan. 9, 2022.

The first cruise ship to Hawaiʻi in two years arrived with multiple COVID-19 cases in isolation. A state official said those who tested positive have not left the ship.

Grand Princess, which departed from Los Angeles on Jan. 4, arrived in Honolulu on Sunday, Jan. 9.

Speaking to The Conversation, state Department of Transportation spokesperson Jai Cunningham said the cruise line has reported multiple positive COVID-19 cases — although declined to give numbers on passengers or staff.

"The important thing is the people that were quarantined did not come onto Oʻahu — and until they test negative, will not be allowed in the state," Cunningham said. "So very much like the planes, there's this process in place to try and keep anyone who is infected with COVID, not walking around amongst us, if you will."

The ship has a capacity of about 3,000 but is traveling with a reduced capacity due to the virus. There are 1,188 passengers and just under 1,000 crew members.

Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s color-coded system for cruise ships, Grand Princess has a “yellow” status. That means the reported cases of COVID-19 have met the threshold for CDC investigation.

The criteria for "yellow" status includes cases reported in 0.10% or more of passengers, or one or more cases among the crew.

Cunningham said the latest port agreement dictates at least 99% of Hawaiʻi cruise ship passengers must be vaccinated against COVID — the CDC's requirement is lower, at 95%. Each ship must have a quarantine/isolation system and medical rooms.

Arriving passengers are subject to the state’s Safe Travels program, just like those arriving by plane. Once they present their negative test or proof of vaccination, they are free to travel inter-island, Cunningham said.

Many passengers told The Conversation they felt comfortable with the risk of traveling and were looking forward to visiting Hawaiʻi. They said passengers are required to wear masks on the ship unless eating or drinking.

Grand Princess also required passengers to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within two days of embarkation in Los Angeles.

"As we checked the statistics, we decided that because we had to be vaccinated, boosted, tested before we got on the cruise ship, that we were in no more danger of being on the cruise ship than going to the grocery store at home," said passenger Deb from Ohio.

Stops on Kauaʻi, Maui and the Big Island were also part of the itinerary for Grand Princess.

"At least for the foreseeable future, any cruise ship that starts its sailing from the mainland to here, will actually have to go to Honolulu Harbor first," Cunningham said. "The mayors felt like with the infrastructure we have here and the facilities, that Honolulu should be the first stopping place, then move on to neighbor islands."

Just before New Year's Eve, the CDC issued an advisory, saying, "Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status."

"The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose," the CDC said.

Find more information on vaccine and testing sites at hawaiicovid19.com.

This story aired on The Conversation on Jan. 10, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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