Cruise industry giants collaborate on Covid-19 initiative

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Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain (left) with former Department Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt discussing the Healthy Sail Panel.
Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain (left) with former Department Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt discussing the Healthy Sail Panel.

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) are working together to develop health and safety protocols for the cruise industry in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The two lines assembled a group, co-chaired by Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, called the “Healthy Sail Panel,” which is tasked with developing recommendations for cruise lines to advance a public health response to Covid-19, improve safety, and achieve readiness for the safe resumption of operations.

Leavitt was a three-term governor of Utah and the secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services for the George W. Bush administration. Gottlieb is a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The panel, which has already been working for nearly a month, plans to offer initial recommendations by the end of August. The two cruise lines say its work will be “open source” and that any company or industry can use its findings, which will be shared with the entire industry as well as regulators.

“We compete for the vacationing consumer’s business every day, but we never compete on health and safety standards,” said Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. “While the cruise industry has always had rigorous health standards, the unique challenges posed by Covid-19 provide an opportunity to raise the bar even higher.”

Del Rio and Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain said they initiated the panel to assure the plans submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulatory agencies apply “the best available public health, science and engineering insights.”

In a YouTube video hosted by Fain, Leavitt said that cruising represents a “microcosm” of the challenges that society faces, given that cruise ships have shops, recreational facilities, hotels, restaurant and casinos. When asked why it would take so long to complete its recommendations, Leavitt said, “It’s a complex subject.”

“We want to make sure we do what can be done to eliminate risk,” he said. “We need to lean to adapt to this.”

Leavitt said he was impressed that the cruise industry was working collaboratively. 

“The idea that the industry does not compete on safety, it wants everyone to have these ideas, makes it the perfect laboratory,” he said. “Everyone is not sitting at the table, but we’ve invited everyone to contribute ideas and we will give them every work product we develop because we want the industry to change.”

Leavitt is confident the findings will enable cruising to resume safely. 

“We are going to cruise again, and we’ll cruise safely again,” he said. 

The panel’s members are:

• Dr. Helene Gayle, CEO of the Chicago Community Trust and former CEO of CARE, a leading international humanitarian organization. Gayle spent 20 years with the CDC, working primarily on HIV/AIDS, and worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, directing programs on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues. 

• Dr. Julie Gerberding, executive vice for Merck, leading all aspects of strategic communications, global public policy, population health and patient engagement. Gerberding is a former director of the CDC, where she led the responses to anthrax, SARS and bird flu. 

• Dr. Steven Hinrichs, professor in the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory and director of the University of Nebraska Center for Biosecurity. 

• Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a frequent consultant to the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the CDC. 

• Dr. Stephen Ostroff, former acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and the FDA’s chief scientist and former deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the CDC, where he was also acting director of CDC’s Select Agent Program. 

• Dr. William Rutala, professor for the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine and director of the Hospital Epidemiology, Occupational Health and Safety Program at the University of North Carolina Health Care System.

• Kate Walsh, dean of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University and former director of training and development for Nikko Hotels International, corporate training manager for the former Bristol Hotels, and senior auditor for Loews Corp. 

• Capt. Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of global marine operations and fleet optimization for all Royal Caribbean brands. 

• Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of vessel operations for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

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