I'm on a Cruise Ship With a Positive COVID-19 Case—Here's Why I'm Not Concerned

Viking's rigorous health and safety protocols have paid off

Viking Sky Explorers Lounge

Courtesy of Viking

This morning, I woke up in Seydisfjordur, Iceland, the fourth day of a seven-day cruise circumnavigating the island. As I took in the dramatic mountains flanking the fjord where our ship, the Viking Sky, had docked, prepping for a day of walking around the small town and an evening visit to the local geothermal baths, the cruise director came on over the intercom: "We are asking all passengers to remain on the ship until further notice."

My husband and I exchanged a furtive glance. This cruise is part of Viking's "Welcome Back" collection, the line's return to sailing more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the travel industry, grinding cruises, in particular, to a halt. We felt confident setting sail with the cruise line's rigorous health and safety protocols but knew that the threat of the virus still lingered. Was there now a COVID-19 case onboard our ship?

As we ate breakfast, life felt pretty normal. Of course, the ship was more crowded than usual since no one had disembarked, but passengers seemed calm, if not a little speculative. Pretty soon after, more information became available to us: indeed, our captain confirmed, there was one suspected positive COVID-19 case on board, and as such, the small town of Seydisfjordur (population: 676) did not want to let us disembark. (Fair enough.)

But, despite the horror stories of COVID-19 cases on cruises, I'm not all that concerned about the rest of my journey. We've come a long way since the Diamond Princess, the ill-fated cruise that resulted in more than 700 COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths, and Viking, in particular, has implemented some serious health and safety protocols to keep its guests and crew safe. Here are just a few:

Mandatory Vaccinations

Everyone on my ship is fully vaccinated. Vaccinations are mandatory aboard Viking, and since the cruise line doesn't allow passengers under 18, there's no worry about children who cannot be vaccinated transmitting the virus. Our vaccination status was verified with Viking before embarking on the ship and again with the Icelandic government, which provides each traveler with a unique barcode that's shown upon entering the country.

Daily PCR Testing

Since we first boarded the ship on Saturday, we've been tested daily for COVID-19 through a saliva-based PCR test. Test tubes are left out each evening during turndown service and collected by housekeeping the following morning, alongside a health screening form (which can also be completed on Viking's app). Viking is the only cruise line with full-scale PCR labs on its vessels, allowing test results to be processed almost immediately and any possible chain of transmission to be stopped very quickly—as has been the case on our ship.

Mask-Wearing and Temperature Checks

Viking has been vigilant about mask-wearing for guests and crew. Even though everyone is vaccinated, facemasks are required at all times on the ship, except when in the pool or hot tub, eating or drinking, or within the privacy of your own room or veranda. While Iceland has relaxed its mask-wearing policies, Viking is also requiring that passengers wear masks when outdoors during shore excursions and on busses.

Contact Tracing

Perhaps the gamechanger for Viking is the tiny, silver-dollar-sized disc each passenger was given as we boarded the ship. Instructed to keep it on us at all times, this device registers close contact with others and stores the information as needed. This small piece of technology, not unlike what players and media wore during the highly successful NBA bubble, allowed Viking to immediately isolate and re-test anyone who had been in close contact with the infected passenger on our ship. (My husband and I had not.)

"Our comprehensive and advanced protocols worked exactly as they were designed," a Viking spokesperson said. "The suspected positive test result occurred as part of our frequent non-invasive saliva PCR testing of all guests and crew; a second PCR test also returned potentially positive." Viking added that, due to the sensitivities of the PCR testing, "it is to be expected that there will be the occasional suspected positive test result. This applies even when all guests and crew are vaccinated, although occurrences will be significantly reduced." The passenger, who is asymptomatic, will remain in isolation until our ship returns to Reykjavik, Viking said, at which point they'll be transferred to a hotel for quarantine.

As for the rest of us, we'll likely be able to call on our remaining two ports as usual. Thanks to Viking's rigorous protocols, what would've been a disastrous situation a year ago is now just an additional day at sea. I suspect that these breakout cases will become a part of cruising life from now on, and while it's always disappointing to lose a day of excursions in a new (and beautiful) part of the world, I'm even more grateful for my health and that of my fellow passengers and crew.

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