There is a new question being circulated among cruise article comments and anywhere else on the Internet where cruise ships are being discussed: can the coronavirus stay infectious on a cruise ship for weeks? We all likely remember the rough coronavirus outbreak that occurred on the Diamond Princess ship back in early February, and this new question can be traced back to this. After multiple people on the ship were tested positive, quarantine was enacted until the travelers were cleared to exit the ship. Afterwards, the CDC conducted multiple tests throughout the Diamond Princess, looking at surfaces and seeing if the virus was active on them. In doing so, they hoped to determine ways that the virus was spreading so quickly and efficiently, and potentially find ways of curbing transmission in small, tightly-knit spaces.
Following this, news stories began to crop up across the web that had seemingly apocalyptic findings. The gist of them was that the coronavirus had survived for up to 17 days on certain surfaces in the ship after the passengers were all evacuated. Obviously, this spells disaster for a number of reasons, and had many people rightfully worried about cruise ships being the ultimate spot for coronavirus to develop.
Misinformation is an incredibly deadly thing during a dark time such as this global pandemic. Because of this, we want to try to clear up the claims made by these articles as much as we can. First, we must make very clear that we are NOT medical professionals, nor epidemiologists! We are a site dedicated to neutral discussion and reviews of cruises. Anything we say here should NOT be taken as medical advice. If you have concerns about your health, or your exposure to COVID-19 (or any other virus) you should talk with your doctor!
The overall theses of these articles, that coronavirus was found on the ship after 17 days, is true. Specifically, it was the RNA (ribonucleic acid) of the coronavirus. One important note to make, though, is that the CDC did not make any direct connection between the RNA existing on these surfaces and the spread of the virus, saying that further work would need to be done to “determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces.” Could this theoretically happen? Of course. We just aren’t sure if it did or not.
Then comes the scariest fact of all: did the virus naturally stay there for 17 days? Well, sorta. Again, the presence of the virus was noted by the RNA.
According to Princess Cruises, RNA “is genetic material which carries the genetic information of many viruses” and that it “can indicate if the virus was present but does not indicate the virus was still alive.” So, we can think that the virus at one point possibly spread via surface, which seems logical. We do not have any idea currently if it can still be spread after that long of a time period.
Another important factor has to do with why the RNA was still there after 17 days. The company stated on March 26 that “Princess Cruises volunteered to preserve select staterooms onboard Diamond Princess, known to have been occupied by positive cases.” They clarified that they expected to still find RNA in these rooms because they had specifically avoided cleaning them. If they had been allowed to disinfect, it is likely that these rooms would have been clear from any RNA presence, but would be unable to be studied by the CDC. Still, that suggests that if one doesn’t disinfect a surface, if the coronavirus is present, that at least the RNA of the coronavirus can persist for up to 17 days.
So, let’s summarize. Does coronavirus stay in cruise ships for weeks? If they are properly cleaned after the infected individuals are gone, not really. The RNA has the potential to last on a surface, but it will not if it is properly disinfected, and we don’t currently have a reason to suspect that it will transfer after a period of weeks has passed without cleaning (which, by the way, wouldn’t happen). We also don’t even know if it can infect from a surface at all (such as if you touched the surface and then touched your face).
Hopefully this clears up some of the controversy surrounding Princess currently. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that you should be fine to go on a cruise ship as long as it is often disinfected. At this time, we should act as if everyone around us has the virus, as that is the only way to be safe. And we should also act as if we have the virus, to keep others safe.
Knowledge is our friend right now, but we should not allow this knowledge about Diamond Princess to lull us into a false sense of security. Stay vigilant, stay at your home, and it will soon all pass! We’ll all be partying on a Princess cruise again before we know it.