Six passengers sailing on Royal Caribbean International's Adventure of the Seas, which departed from Nassau Saturday, have tested positive for COVID-19, Lyan Sierra-Caro, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, confirmed to USA TODAY Friday. All are American citizens.
The tests came back as part of routine, end-of-cruise testing, which is offered as a courtesy by the cruise line since most passengers need to show proof of a negative test in order to return home. Travelers flying to the U.S. from international destinations are required to show proof of a negative COVID test or proof they recovered from the virus within the past three months.
"These guests were quarantined and then retested with a PCR test to confirm their diagnosis," Sierra-Caro said. PCR and antigen tests were offered to passengers, depending on their destination. The tests that came back positive were rapid tests, and those passengers were retested Thursday or Friday with a PCR test, which is more reliable.
Not all passengers on board Adventure of the Seas were immediately notified of the COVID-19 cases on board. Close contacts had been alerted and were given a PCR test.
Around 3:45 p.m. EST, the ship was notified over loudspeaker of the news. By that time, the passengers who tested positive had disembarked and were on their way home.
"I think it was the right announcement, but I think that it should have come sooner than it did," passenger Elissa Paget Ducar told USA TODAY.
"There should have been transparency with the bridge," she continued. "If living with Covid is going to be the new normal, Then communication needs to be a whole lot better than it is."
The ship is currently docked in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, where many passengers have disembarked for activities such as shore excursions.
Typically, according to Sierra-Caro, an announcement like this will be made once passengers return to the ship before departing. The ship is scheduled to disembark in Nassau on Saturday, wrapping up a seven-night journey with stops at Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Cozumel, Mexico and Grand Bahama Island.
"Four of the guests, who are not traveling together, are vaccinated, three are asymptomatic and one has mild symptoms," Royal Caribbean said in a statement provided by Sierra-Caro. "Two of the guests, who are in the same traveling party, are unvaccinated minors and asymptomatic."
To sail on Adventure of the Seas, passengers 16 and older are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to receive a negative test before boarding. Children under 16 must test negative before boarding, too. All crew on board are fully vaccinated.
The passengers who tested positive and their close contacts were quarantined immediately upon receiving test results. The six passengers and their traveling parties will be flown home from Freeport, where the ship is docked, on Friday.
Sierra-Caro noted the passengers will be medically evacuated and taken door to door from ship to home via private transport to a private plane and then home. The transportation will come at no cost to the passengers.
The cruise line instructs COVID-positive passengers to quarantine for 14 days at home and to speak with their doctors.
For others on board the ship, the cruise will remain normal with no quarantining requirement. The ship is carrying 1,182 passengers and 900 crew members on board, including this reporter.
"Our security team has already done all of that and reached out to any close contacts who met that criteria," Sierra-Caro said. All close contacts tested negative with PCR test results delivered Friday morning.
Royal Caribbean has not yet confirmed whether the cases are of the highly transmissible delta variant but is investigating further, according to Sierra-Caro.
COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but they’re not 100% effective. That means a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the CDC. However, vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die.
How are passengers on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas reacting to news of COVID cases?
Joel Swanson, 39, from Ponte Vedra, Florida, is on board Adventure of the Seas with his family, including two daughters under 16, and told USA TODAY he feels safe.
"(The cruise line has) safety protocols worked into every aspect of the cruise, but not in a way that hinders the experience," Swanson said. "The fact they caught these cases shows their protocols are working and they’re keeping the rest of the passengers safe by preventing further spread."
Swanson's 12-year-old daughter is vaccinated and his younger daughter, who is 8, is not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine.
The family was on board Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas ship when COVID began to spread in March 2020, shuttering the cruise industry. The ship docked normally on March 15, 2020, one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order and the cruise industry shut down.
Since then, measures taken to address COVID-19 have evolved significantly. "The fact that even [if] we somehow contracted COVID while on board, we would be transported home quickly, brought added peace of mind," Swanson said.
Daniel Smith, 30, from Miami, echoed Swanson's feelings. "Happy to see protocols are working for identification," Smith wrote in a message to USA TODAY. "Ship is doing a great job with cleaning and social distancing. Feel safer here than I do back home."
Smith added that "one of the big fears" is that COVID will interrupt everyone's cruise vacation. With the cruise line transporting COVID-19 positive passengers home and implementing onboard testing and contact tracing, it hasn't interrupted the trip, in his opinion.
"This is being handled discretely, professionally and respectfully," he said.
While Paget Ducar was dissatisfied with how long it took the ship's crew to notify passengers that some people on board had tested positive for COVID-19, she said she is "glad that the protocols that Royal Caribbean has in place are working."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Royal Caribbean cruise: 6 passengers sent home after COVID positive