To the public, the most visible aspects of the cruise industry's battle with Covid-19 have centered on a push for universal testing and hopes for quick distribution of vaccines.
But there's a component to their efforts that won't be seen but will be, literally, inhaled by guests.
As part of the numerous protocols the industry is adopting to resume sailing again, cruise companies are upgrading their air-filtration systems to minimize potential pathogen dispersal should a guest or crew member become infected.
Put differently, the lines are creating defense systems using technology that will zap Covid-19 out of cruise ship air.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings became the latest cruise company to make a substantial investment in clean air with the company AtmosAir Solutions, which will install air purification systems across its fleet of 28 ships among its three brands, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The system is expected to reduce the presence of coronavirus by 99.92% within 30 minutes. It is the same technology that Virgin Voyages retrofitted on its first ship, the Scarlet Lady.
AtmosAir uses bipolar ionization (BPI) in the air and on surfaces, which it calls an all-natural solution with no harmful chemicals or radiations. It differs from traditional air-filtration systems by attacking viruses and bacteria in the air, rather than through filters. AtmosAir systems are already being used in airports, casinos, sports facilities, educational institutions and commercial buildings.
Windstar Cruises is retrofitting its six small ships with UV-C light, also called germicidal irradiation, that kill bacteria and viruses, including coronaviruses. The technology is being installed in addition to hospital-grade, high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters on Windstar vessels.
Andrew Todd, CEO of Windstar's parent company, Xanterra, said that the technology "in theory will zap any bacteria and viruses not caught by the filter."
Royal Caribbean Group has opted to upgrade its ships with MERV 13 air filters, which the line says can filter out coronavirus as well as cold and flu viruses, complementing a larger system that provides a continual intake of fresh ocean air to every part of the ship.
Royal says that with its systems, "this continual intake of fresh air replaces the air in any space, with a total air change up to 12 times an hour in staterooms, and about 15 changes an hour in large public spaces."
The cruise company said that, according to an independent assessment conducted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, "the transmission of aerosol particles (like those from a cough) between spaces is extremely low to virtually impossible."
For all of the lines, the air-purification systems are in addition to protocols such as testing all passengers, reducing capacity to enable social distancing and enforcing mask-wearing.
"We are working diligently on our multi-layered strategy for health and safety," Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of Vessel Operations for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in a statement, adding that AtmosAir technology "will add yet another layer of protection onboard our ships."
Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said last summer that technology such as AtmosAir would help reassure potential cruisers.
"They need to have confidence that they can come on and are not going to contract the virus," he said. "It's never 100%, but it's all about reducing risk."