Everything was so confusing: 44 people test positive for COVID on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas ship – USA TODAY

At least 44 people on board Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas ship that ended a 7-day cruise in Miami on Saturday were positive for COVID-19 during the sailing, the cruise line said.

Those 44 people who tested positive represented 0.72% of the 6,074 passengers and crew members on board Symphony of the Seas, which left Miami on Dec. 11and made stops in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay (Royal Caribbean’s private island), spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro told USA TODAY.

The cruise line also notified passengers Saturday fromthat trip and from two others (a sailing that departed Dec. 4 and onethat departed Dec. 18) that a passenger who sailed on that sameship earlier this month tested positive for the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“We were notified by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that a guest on board our (December) 4th cruise tested positive and it was identified as omicron,” Sierra-Caro  said. “They (CDC) asked us to notify guests on the sailing — the one that ended today — and the current one.”

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In the email to the passengers who sailed on the three cruises on Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean outlined what happened.

“This guest did not report symptoms to our onboard medical teams as outlined in our health protocols,” the cruise line said in a copy of the email obtained by USA TODAY. “Their post cruise test results were subsequently confirmed as the omicron variant.”

The 44 cases on the recently disembarked cruise “were found as a result of immediately identifying close contacts after a guest tested positive,” Sierra-Caro said, noting each person was quarantined quickly. “Everyone who tested positive is asymptomatic, and we continually monitored their health. Six guests were disembarked earlier in the cruise and transported home. The remaining guests received assistance today upon our arrival.”

In the email to passengers, Royal Caribbean said that the cases on the Dec. 11th sailing were “unrelated to the omicron case from the guest who sailed on Dec. 4th.”

It is not immediately clear why the cases were unrelated.

The cruise line advised that passengers visit a certified testing center three to five days after disembarkation, per CDC guidance.

On Saturday, the CDC said in a statement that the agency was aware of the situation on Symphony of the Seas and that it was “working with RCI to gather more information about the cases and possible exposures, and RCI will be collecting specimens from the current voyage for genetic sequencing.”

On the CDC’s cruise ship color status list, Symphony of the Seas is “Yellow” ,indicating that the “CDC has investigated and ship remains under observation,” according to the agency.

The Symphony of the Seas cruise ship is shown docked at PortMiami, in a Wednesday, May 20, 2020, file photo, in Miami.

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Passengers say Royal Caribbean was overwhelmed

Connor O’Dell, 29, from Orlando, Florida, was traveling with a party of 12 on the Symphony of the Seas sailing that wrapped up Saturday. Six of his traveling companions tested positive for COVID. Everyone in their group was fully vaccinated and most had had a booster shot, O’Dell said.

O’Dell and his fiancé, James Johnson, 36, tested negative, he said. 

The first person who tested positive in their group was Johnson’s aunt, who is 66 and at high risk for COVID, O’Dell said. She was symptomatic and reported her symptoms to Royal Caribbean Thursday during the cruise.

“She was very symptomatic,” O’Dell said, nothing she had a bad cough and sore throat, and that neither a doctor or nurse gave her an in-depth physical exam or asked her about preexisting conditions. “We all knew the risks of going on the ship — the problem is that we were promised a set of protocols (or) adequate medical staffing and they were never adhered to.”

Sierra-Caro did not immediately respond to a question regarding whether all who tested positive were asymptomatic given O’Dell and Johnson’s claims that Johnson’s aunt was symptomatic.

It took around four hours for a nurse to come to administer a COVID test and get a result. Johnson’s auntwas then quarantined for the rest of the trip.

Johnson said he contacted medical staff and, after several attempts, he reached a nurse who told him that they were understaffed. He asked if the ship’s medical team could check on his aunt. His aunt received a call the next day.

Out of their party, she was the only one who was checked in on by the cruise line at all, even after five others tested positive, Johnson said.

Johnson and O’Dell self-quarantined but later were told that they were could leave their stateroom after the positive test came back on Johnson’s aunt, even though they had been spending time together as a group.

“We kept asking ‘are you sure we can leave?'” Johnson said. After half an hour, O’Dell said that they were asked by crew members to isolate again.

Johnson said that they received conflicting results, with his cousin being told she tested positive, then later told that it was actually her boyfriend who was positive. 

“They were so overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “They just kept saying something (and then) changing what they were saying. Everything was so confusing,” he said. 

When asked to comment on whether staff was overwhelmed and if protocol wasn’t followed properly, Sierra-Caro said that wasn’t the case.

“Our staff was able to handle all the cases on board and we followed all of our protocols for testing and quarantine,” Sierra-Caro said.

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