Norwegian Cruise Line Ship Reports at Least 17 COVID Cases — Including 'Probable' Omicron Variant

The Louisiana Department of Health initially reported 10 cases on board Saturday, but that number has since grown

Norwegian Cruise Line's ship
Photo: Richard Drew/AP/Shutterstock

A Norwegian Cruise Line ship with at least 17 passengers infected with COVID-19 docked in New Orleans, Louisiana, over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Norwegian Breakaway ship — which had departed from New Orleans on Nov. 28 with more than 3,200 individuals on board — returned to the city after making stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico on its voyage, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a statement.

Initially identifying 10 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the Department of Health updated their findings to more the following day.

"This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases identified among the passengers and crew members to 17," the organization wrote in a Sunday statement.

The Department of Health also noted that a crew member was among those infected, and the organization believes that individual has a "probable case" of the new Omicron variant. "The crew member is not a Louisiana resident and did not leave the ship," the organization wrote.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines confirmed to PEOPLE that there were "a handful of COVID-19 asymptomatic cases among guests and crew." The cruise company similarly reiterated the Department of Health's statement that the crew member is "suspected to have the COVID-19 Omicron variant."

Norwegian Cruise Lines also explained that "guests who opt to sail must wear masks while indoors except while actively eating or drinking and will be tested twice during the cruise."

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"As always, the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our highest priority," the company continued. "Since the relaunch of our fleet, we have required 100% of guests and crew to be fully vaccinated per our comprehensive and stringent health and safety protocols."

"We will never compromise on health and safety and we will of course, continue to take all appropriate action to ensure everyone's well-being and to protect public health," they added.

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Select passengers disembarking from the ship told local outlet WVUE-TV that they were notified about the positive cases on the ship. Others, however, explained that they were not aware of the outbreak.

"We didn't hear of this until we kind of heard you talking a second ago," Don Canole, a passenger from North Carolina, told the outlet. "It would have been nice to have known. We would have taken maybe a few more precautions."

Passengers also told WVUE-TV that they were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday before disembarking the following day. The cruise line also gave passengers take-home rapid tests as they left, the outlet reported.

The ship where the infected individuals were located was scheduled to depart once more later that same day, WVUE-TV reported.

"At this time, there have been no changes to scheduled future sailings on Norwegian Breakaway," a Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson told the outlet. "We will provide additional updates to impacted guests as appropriate."

As the omicron variant starts to spread around the world, health experts are working to understand just how contagious it is and if it can evade COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers were concerned to see that it has the most mutations of any strain yet, which indicates that it would be highly contagious. But reassuringly, the cases so far have been mild or asymptomatic. Either way, getting a COVID-19 vaccine will provide protection against omicron and the Centers for Disease Control is urging everyone to get vaccinated or a booster dose.

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