Food service workers on board the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship inadvertently became the primary carriers of the deadly bug aboard the vessel, a new CDC study revealed.
The first detected cases on board the ship — which was quarantined off the coast of Yokohama for nearly four weeks — were reported among passengers, but then the virus spread to members of the crew, according to the study published Tuesday.
A food service worker who developed a fever on Feb. 2 became the first COVID-19 case among crew members on the cruise.
By Feb. 9, a total of 20 cases were laboratory-confirmed among crew members, including three who reported close contact with other members who had previously tested positive before the quarantine began, the study reveals.
Seven ill crew members began experiencing symptoms three days into the quarantine, indicating that the transmission likely began even earlier, according to the study.
The earliest laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases in crew members occurred among food service workers — with 15 of the 20 confirmed cases among workers occurring in those who prepared food for other members, the findings reveal.
Sixteen of the 20 cases occurred among those with cabins on deck 3, where the food service workers lived.
The study also uncovered a failure to implement “systematic testing” for the infectious disease on board the Diamond Princess until Feb. 6.
“Only crew members who visited the medical clinic with symptoms were tested, and information on the total number of tests administered is not available,” the CDC found.
The report did not indicate how many of the nearly 700 coronavirus cases reported among Diamond Princess passengers were traceable to food service workers.
But the CDC 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,” the federal agency said. Besides cruise ships, those settings also include clubs, sports arenas and gyms, according to the CDC.
A total of 696 out of about 3,700 Diamond Princess passengers and crew ultimately tested positive for COVID-19, of whom eight have died.
Last week, four major cruise lines, Carnival — the operator of the Diamond Princess — Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC all agreed to suspend outbound cruises for 30 days at President Trump’s request.
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