Princess Cruises food workers spread coronavirus, study finds

Jonathan Levin and Michelle Fay Cortez

Food-service employees aboard the Diamond Princess hastened the spread of coronavirus on the stricken cruise ship, ultimately contributing to more than 700 cases, according to a government study.

Although the first cases were detected among passengers, the virus spread to members of the crew, according to the study published Tuesday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

On Feb. 2, a food-service worker became the first known case among crew, and such employees accounted for three-quarters of early laboratory-confirmed cases among staff. The report said those workers prepared food for other members of the crew.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship is anchored at a port in Yokohama, Feb. 25.

The report highlights the risk of exposure in crowded settings like ships, gyms and concert venues, popular gathering spots that are now shutting down to contain the virus. Major U.S. cruise lines, including Princess parent Carnival Corp., have halted operations temporarily.

“This investigation underscores the need for swift epidemiologic investigation as soon as a Covid-19 case is detected in an area or group where a large number of persons gather in a closed or crowded setting,” researchers said in the report.

The report didn’t say how many of the vessel’s total cases were traceable to food-service workers. The ship eventually had to be quarantined off Yokohama, Japan.

When passengers were asked to go into a two-week quarantine in their cabins, crew members continued regular duties and delivered meals to guests. The workers remained in their cabins when they weren’t on duty.

Carnival’s Princess brand accounted for the first two known episodes of coronavirus transmission on cruises. Subsequently, President Donald Trump asked cruise companies to suspend U.S. sailings.