Ship sail

Health expert shares tips for going on a cruise ship in the middle of Omicron

Going on a cruise means new challenges, but how do you reconcile the pleasure of a vacation and the best health practices?

Covid-19 has changed not only the protocols on board cruise ships, but also the way guests approach vacations. So what should you do to better protect yourself along the way?

Since I am not a health expert, I reached out to Dr. Anthony Harris, MD, MBA, MPH to share his recommendations.

Dr. Harris is the CEO of Hfit Health, where he focuses on keeping the workforce healthy and the general public healthy from an exposure perspective. His company has worked as a corporate medical director with several Fortune 50 Fortune 100 companies during the pandemic.

More importantly, Dr. Harris has been keeping tabs on the best ways to travel safely with updated regulations.

Wear a K95 mask

Face masks on Royal Caribbean: What you need to know |  Royal Caribbean Blog

Since face masks are required by Royal Caribbean (and other cruise lines) indoors, your best bet is to wear a K95 or KN95 mask.

While these masks are meant to be disposable, Dr Harris says it’s possible to wear them multiple times, “If we’re talking about how long, it depends on how often and what environment you’re wearing the mask in. If they get soiled with water or different materials, then you want to assess and make sure that doesn’t prevent the mask from working normally.”

“If your mask hasn’t been very dirty, throw it in a paper bag and it will be nice and fresh for you in the morning.”

Also, you want to make sure you have enough masks for the entire cruise, “Don’t bring just one. Bring a few backups.”

Read more: My top tips for cruising in early 2022 during Omicron

Social distancing

What does a cruise look like right now?  |  Royal Caribbean Blog

While Royal Caribbean has implemented changes on board its cruise ships to keep passengers apart, you can avoid being close to others when possible.

“Remember if you don’t have to be shoulder to shoulder with someone while you sit and talk and enjoy the view over the bow.”

Prioritize the outdoors

Navigator of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day |  Royal Caribbean Blog

If possible, try to spend more time outdoors than indoors.

“We know that being outdoors significantly lowers your risk of transmission,” Dr Harris recommended. “You’re outside, you can be a bit more open in terms of social distancing, and your risk goes down.”

First Look at Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas |  Royal Caribbean Blog

Dr Harris said the reason being outdoors matters is because of air movement. Covid is an airborne disease, and Dr Harris says studies have shown the more air movement you have, the better off you are when it comes to your risk of transmission.

While you’re indoors, Royal Caribbean has already adopted an airflow strategy that mirrors what Dr. Harris recommends, “a standard we use in healthcare and facilities is about six times per hour”.

A new study shows "exceptionally low"  Risk of Airborne Particles on Cruise Ships |  Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean has adjusted onboard settings to allow for maximum air changes per hour and upgrade to MERV (minimum efficiency ratio value) 13 filters throughout the system.

In fact, Royal Caribbean claims outside air is drawn in as existing air inside is exhausted from the opposite side of the ship 15-20 times per hour (and up to 12 times in the cabins). That’s twice what Dr. Harris recommended.

The bottom line for Dr Harris is just to be aware of your surroundings, “be aware, but don’t be afraid, especially when you’re in environments where you have adequate air movement to reduce your risk” .

Read more: New study shows ‘exceptionally low’ risk of airborne particles on cruise ships

Let the crew know if you are unwell

How Royal Caribbean provides medical care at sea |  Royal Caribbean Blog

If you start to feel less well, you call the medical center on board.

“Do not hesitate if you start having any symptoms to go get tested while you are on a cruise.”

“You’re going to protect everyone who’s cruising with you, and you’re going to allow the majority of people to enjoy their time without worrying or fearing transmission.”

Read more: What happens after testing positive for Covid on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Myth: Should you take an antigen test if you recently had Covid?

Royal Caribbean Post Roundup: September 5, 2021 |  Royal Caribbean Blog

I asked Dr Harris about a concern a number of cruise fans have about testing positive after recovering from Covid on a PCR test.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com reader Mark Elliott posted on our message boards last week on what to do to get tested months after having Covid without getting a positive result.

Other readers have recommended an antigen test instead of a PCR test, but is that a good idea?

Royal Caribbean to begin offering back-to-back cruisers in-home Covid testing |  Royal Caribbean Blog

Dr Harris confirmed Mark’s initial concern: “PCR can show that a person is positive for COVID beyond their period of infectious contagiousness.”

“If you’re 10 days into your symptoms, you’re usually no longer infected or infectious. And that’s the standard the CDC still has that we use in the clinical community.”

If you have exceeded the 10 day period, Dr Harris said an antigen test is acceptable: “After this 10 day period, if you can show, and if it is acceptable, a negative rapid test, It’s okay.”

“Because, again, you’re not putting people at risk if you’re outside of that time window in terms of exposure to others.”

Should you test once your cruise is over?

What free Covid tests does the US government offer for a Royal Caribbean cruise?  |  Royal Caribbean Blog

Assuming you spend your vacation on a cruise and return home without feeling sick at all, should you still take a Covid test?

Dr Harris says the answer depends on your situation, “Should everyone be tested as soon as they get home? Maybe not.”

“You live alone. You’re not going to be around someone with vulnerable predispositions, so you might not need to test.”

“But certainly, if you’re coming home with your 90-year-old grandmother and mother or someone with a pre-existing condition…then it’s reasonable to go ahead and test.”

Rapid COVID-19 tests now available at New York airports |  Royal Caribbean Blog

When exactly should you test after your cruise? Dr Harris says testing immediately and a few days later makes sense.

He recommends testing when you get home and then again three days later.

Dr Harris pointed out that post-cruise testing is only necessary for some people, not everyone, but consider this if you have people in your household who may have pre-existing conditions.

What if you test positive before or after the cruise?

I had to cancel my cruise because I caught Covid, here's what happened |  Royal Caribbean Blog

What if you take your Covid test before the cruise and are positive before boarding?

Dr Harris says the first thing to do is test again, “Is this a true positive? There are still false positives. And so consider doing a second test.”

If the second test comes back positive again, you want to quarantine yourself. Dr. Harris recommends looking for an Airbnb rather than a hotel room for the level of comfort it offers.

Royal Caribbean 2022 Cruise Planning Guide |  Royal Caribbean Blog

“Protecting others in this scenario certainly means not getting on the plane home while you test positive for Covid, staying put and using the new guidelines.”

After five days, if you test again and are negative, you are ready to go home.

Read more: I had to cancel my cruise because I caught the Covid, here’s what happened