Carnival Cruise Lines offers ships as mobile hospitals, experts say that won’t work

On February 4, 2020, 10 people aboard the Diamond Princess tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Despite a quarantine, eventually, 700 people on board were diagnosed. Nearly 2,000 passengers on its sister ship, the Grand Princess, were held in quarantine in California after docking on March 9, after the illness was discovered on board. Cruise ships are, unfortunately, places where illnesses can travel fast: people are in close quarters, isolated for extended periods of time and can’t easily get away from others who are ill.

Two 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ships are being prepared to help alleviate the strain on overcrowded hospitals on land. The USNS Mercy will head from its homeport in San Diego to Seattle, Washington, this week. The USNS Comfort is undergoing maintenance, and will travel from its homeport in Norfolk, VA, up to New York in early April. 2,000 beds will be incredibly helpful, but not enough. One U.S. cruise company wants to help: Carnival has offered to have its ships converted into hospitals to receive patients:

Carnival Corporation — the parent company of Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and others — is reaching out to government and health officials to offer access to their cruise ships to use as floating hospitals in the midst of the pandemic.

The company announced the initiative in a press release on Thursday afternoon, stating that select cruise ships from their fleet would be made available to communities “for use as temporary hospitals to help address the escalating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems around the world.”

Most major cruise lines have temporarily suspended all scheduled sailings, so their ships are currently out of commission. . . .

According to the statement, [Carnival] believe their cruise ships can easily be transformed into health care facilities because of the way they are typically built. Most of Carnival’s ships already have up to 1,000 isolated rooms with access to a high-speed internet network, so remote patient monitoring devices — like cardiac, respiratory, oxygen saturation and video monitoring — could be installed and connected for non-critical, non-coronavirus patients.

Rooms also have private bathrooms and many have balconies, meaning patients could enjoy fresh air if desired, they stated.

Carnival says their fleet would also be able to provide up to seven intensive care units per ship, and that, similar to how regular health facilities use different floors for different wards, they could use different decks to separate various medical departments.

“The temporary hospital cruise ships would be berthed at a pier near the community in need and operated by the ship’s crew, with all maritime operations, food and beverage, and cleaning services provided by crew members on the ship,” reads the statement. “Medical services would be provided by the government entity or hospital responsible for fighting the spread of COVID-19 within that community.”

They requested interested health care providers reach out to them and provided a contact to do so.

While that is a generous offer, medical professionals who spoke with People aren’t enthusiastic. Among them is Dr. Robert Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University who serves on several COVID-19 task forces:

“The individual state rooms in a cruise ship, even though equipped with bathrooms, make nursing care far more complex,” Norton says. “The design also makes cleaning and disinfection more difficult, in that there are lots of little spaces, rather than several larger spaces.” He points to norovirus outbreaks on ships as evidence of potential flaws.

Speaking to PEOPLE about why cruise vacations are particularly dangerous amid the pandemic last week, infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine, noted that cruise ships, at least in their original state as passenger vessels, “are incubators. Everybody’s close together, packed in all the time. One person gets sick, a lot of them got sick. It’s a very unfavorable environment for disease transmission.”

In addition to issues with cleaning, Norton says that food delivery could also be a potential problem on a cruise ship-turned-hospital, as their kitchens are designed for passengers, not sick people.

[From People]

Dr. Norton also said that even if the cruise ships were used, there may not be enough health care professionals to take care of the people who are sick, too. This is so damn unfortunate: You have a number of large ships with beds, and beds are among the things we desperately need right now. Cruise ships don’t seem like a viable, safe alternative to hospitals, though. Converting them will take time and money, and would potentially increase the number of cases of coronavirus.

It’s also infuriating to learn that Trump and others knew about the threat that coronavirus posed back in January. Every day, we keep getting deeper into this mess, and it has been exacerbated by his and others’ failure to take warnings seriously and prepare. On that note, I want to offer thanks to any healthcare workers who are reading this right now: doctors, nurses, techs, radiologists, assistants, office managers, receptionists: any staff member who works in a hospital or medical office. A relative works in a hospital where cases have been confirmed, so it’s been a very stressful time in my neck of the woods. I’m so grateful to you all. I know you’re doing what you can to stay safe, and just know that you are appreciated by so many people!

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18 Responses to “Carnival Cruise Lines offers ships as mobile hospitals, experts say that won’t work”

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  1. Jane Doe says:

    Cruise ships are floating Petri dishes at the best of times. The industry needs to read the room!

    • HoyaLawya says:

      I think their goal is to improve their image prior to hitting up the government for a bailout.

    • liz says:

      @mac – the hotels do, but only the actual real estate they own, to the extent they are not already mortgaged. The airlines & cruise operators don’t. The aircraft & ships are all mortgaged to the hilt.

      Even beyond that, used aircraft & ships have absolutely no resale value, even less than used cars (at least there are normally people looking for crappy cars for their teenagers or to commute to work). No one wants a used 737. The airlines can’t give them away, so they get retired to a parking lot in the Arizona desert (or at least they did when i was working in aircraft finance).

      And the cruise lines should be looking to the countries where they are registered for bailouts. Not the US. The airlines should have stashed their last round of bailout money for times like these, not used it for stock buybacks and executive bonuses. Let’s help our hospitals and small businesses before even considering bailing out those industries.

      • Onnit says:

        Hospitals have so much cash they can’t find enough of ANYTHING to buy (they own it all). They don’t pay taxes, either. They don’t need any bail outs whatsoever.
        Small businesses and their poor employees are the ones being hit hard, and truly will benefit from government assistance.

      • John Radulski says:

        I agree that cruise lines should beg from the ships’ registered country/ies. They are registered there for tax dodging. Good luck.

  2. Alexandria says:

    It is a nice offer but I’m going to have to take experts’ opinion on this. I love cruises by the way and can’t wait to cruise again…

  3. Harla says:

    I’d like to give a shoutout to all law enforcement personnel as well!! Thanks for working so hard to keep us safe!

  4. Allergy says:

    Could they be used as hospitals for people who test negative but still need hospital care for something else? Or as homeless shelters?
    I know it would be really hard to keep the virus out, but if the patients and staff stayed on the ship and got food and stuff delivered?
    They could be children’s hospitals.

    • Kate says:

      Homeless shelters might be a good idea. Although I think they might be using empty hotels for this purpose, at least in NYC?

      I am really ashamed of how we have totally dropped the ball on this and as a result have put our doctors and nurses and other healthcare staff at risk by not preparing enough PPE and other supplies earlier on. It sounds like we had the information to at least get started in case something happened and just….turned a blind eye.

  5. Jess says:

    The experts are probably right, but it may be our only option in another month or so if hospitals are filled, we’ll see how it goes. Plus hospitals aren’t exactly known for their cleanliness either, thousands of people die from nosocomial infections every year, and millions more get sick but recover.

    Also, it wouldn’t be like normal cruise operations. You wouldn’t have patients sharing germs at the dining room buffets or hanging out at the casino, they’d be quarantined in their rooms and have food delivered individually.

    I know quite a few healthcare workers who are temporarily out of work and would jump at the chance to work in a situation like that. I work at an urgent care walk in and my hours were drastically cut last week. We’ve been really slow since we don’t have tests available, and we told our healthy patients to just stay home unless they develop trouble breathing. A few of my friends are nurses in elective surgery centers and they shut down for now. I’m fortunate enough to not have to work but many are struggling.

  6. 10KTurtle says:

    Even those Navy hospital ships are going to have/cause staffing issues. Most of the medical staff for the ships are Reservists, who will be called away from their regular jobs at home where they are also needed. It’s a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” thing, as my grandfather would say.
    If the cruise ships could be staffed, I don’t see how they couldn’t make it work, even if on a very limited basis. The patients wouldn’t be attending game night together and sneezing all over the buffet- they’d be stuck in their rooms. They could even do it every-other-room occupancy. I wonder about the ventilation though. The areas of positive/negative pressures and whichever rooms share air flow would be important.

  7. Mia says:

    Carnival can shove the offer up there you know what. Or is everyone gonna to ignore how they bullied bunch of Caribbean officials who did not feel comfortable with them docking ships when the illness became apparent? These countries had every right to protest as their medical infrastructure can not take such burdens/strain. But Carnival threatened to remove all business. I think it is disgusting behavior from a shady corporation during difficult times. No one seems to be talking about it though.

    • Samanathalous says:

      I agree that is disgusting, and also shocking how many ships are still at sea. Why are people going on cruises? I hope the US blocks all ports to cruises.

      • SK2 says:

        Ugh, yes!
        I also was so shocked and disgusted to learn how polluting these cruise ships are. They are foul. They dump waste in the ocean and use the most polluting fuel.

        Carnival Corporation and its Princess subsidiary just can’t seem to quit polluting the planet. As the Financial Times reports, Carnival’s pollution problem is so bad that across its fleet, the large boats pollute 10 times more than all 260 million of Europe’s cars.

  8. schmootc says:

    After reading this article, I really hope they don’t get any cash, particularly when they purposefully avoid paying US taxes. C’mon!