Cruise Ship Worker Reveals What It's Like to be in 'Isolation' at Sea Amid Coronavirus
For nearly two weeks, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas has been sailing ocean waters with no guests.
On March 17, guests of the ship, who were embarking on a 10-day cruise, disembarked in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, leaving roughly 790 crew members on board.
At first, crew members continued working to feed and entertain their fellow staffers on board, but on March 31, they were forced to self-isolate (out of an abundance of caution) and were moved into guest cabins in an attempt to prevent the spread of the respiratory virus, Hannah Lucy, who works as a member of the cruise director’s staff — and is responsible for hosting parties and games shows on the ship — tells PEOPLE.
Lucy, a U.K. native, says the ship is now “just anchored off of Barbados, we come in every so often to pick up provisions and fuel.”
“We are just coming up to being in isolation for nearly two weeks and so we hope we can go back to being with other crew members, but this could get extended,” Lucy explains.
“Up until March 25, I was working onboard and was meant to carry on doing so until September. We work seven-month contracts and in that time, we live onboard.”
Lucy says she was not able to return home as the response to pandemic escalated “very quickly.”
“I’ve yet to be able to come home because commercial flights stopped and the company is trying it’s best to get us home as soon and safely as possible.”
Lucy, along with her fellow crew members, have not been outside and only get to watch the rapid changes the virus has caused around the world on TV.
“It’s like watching a horror movie,” Lucy says.
Those not on lockdown are carrying out essential duties for the ship including delivering food to rooms and operating the vessel.
While Lucy shares she hasn’t “felt scared” while on lockdown, she does fear “how long it is going to be before we can socialize with one another without having to be six feet apart.”
“I feel like I’m getting withdrawals of not being able to hug another person or when we can start traveling again or work again for that matter,” Lucy says.
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As for how she spends her days, Lucy says she watches “reruns of Friends” although she “would love to just go out for a run.”
“Some days, we try and create games we can play over the ship phones or do makeup challenges, just silly things to keep us occupied.”
“I’m taking each day as it comes and am hoping to be at home soon with my family, but until then, I guess I have to make the most of the sea view.”
Despite the circumstances, Lucy explains that Royal Caribbean is “looking after us until they can safely get us home.”
“They are even chartering flights, they’ve already started with Indonesia a few days ago … 66 Indonesians left the ship, which is great news. They’re working closely with countries’ governments to do the same.”
A rep for Royal Caribbean tells PEOPLE, “We are fully focused on protecting the well-being of our crew and are maintaining rigorous health protocols, including elevated deep cleaning and sanitization procedures aboard our ships.”
“In accordance with the latest medical guidance, our ships are practicing social distancing, and in an abundance of caution our crew members have been asked to self-isolate in their staterooms for a 14-day quarantine period.”
“We are actively monitoring the health of our crew members, and any who exhibit influenza-like symptoms are placed in isolation and receive constant care under physician observation.”
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they would be extending their No Sail Order indefinitely for all cruise ships amid the pandemic.
The new order states that cruise lines will not be allowed to disembark passengers at any U.S. port of call without direction from the U.S. Coast Guard, in consultation with the CDC, HHS and other government bodies.
Despite the earlier No Sail Order and the Cruise Lines International Association’s decision to suspend all cruise ship operations on March 13, the CDC says that there are approximately 100 cruise ships still at sea off the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast of the U.S., with nearly 80,000 crew members on board.
At least 10 ships have reported that they have passengers and/or crew on board who have tested positive for coronavirus or have exhibited symptoms in the past few weeks.
The updated mandate follows the CDC’s first No Sail Order, which was issued on March 14 and was intended to stay in place for 30 days.
The current order will impact cruise lines indefinitely, indicating that no cruise ships will be allowed in or out of the U.S. until one of three things happens: 1) The Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that the coronavirus is a public health emergency expires, 2) The CDC director rescinds or modifies the order in accordance with public health considerations, or 3) 100 days have passed since the date of the order’s publication in the Federal Register.
CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a press release that the agency is “working with the cruise line industry to address the health and safety of crew at sea as well as communities surrounding U.S. cruise ship points of entry.”
He added, “The measures we are taking today to stop the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect Americans, and we will continue to provide critical public health guidance to the industry to limit the impacts of COVID-19 on its workforce throughout the remainder of this pandemic.”
Since the beginning of the global spread of COVID-19, several cruise ships have seen severe — and deadly — outbreaks of the virus.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined off Yokohama, Japan, for weeks in February with sick passengers on board. A total of 621 people eventually tested positive. According to Reuters, seven former passengers have now died. Some of the infected passengers from that ship have since become among the first to take part in a coronavirus drug trial.
Worldwide, there are now 1,619,495 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 97,200 deaths.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.