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Cruise ship disembarks in New Orleans with at least 17 COVID cases, including a "probable" Omicron infection

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New Orleans — A Norwegian Cruise Line ship with at least 17 passengers and crew members infected with COVID-19 docked Sunday in New Orleans, where health officials said the ship was disembarked amid efforts to prevent any spread into the community. At least one of the infected crew members is suspected to have the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Louisiana Department of Health said late Sunday.
 
The Norwegian Breakaway arrived in the city on Sunday after departing from New Orleans on November 28 and making stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico over the past week.
 
Norwegian Cruise Line issued a statement on Saturday confirming a "handful of COVID-19 cases among guests and crew." The company said all of the identified cases involved people without symptoms of the illness. On Monday, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement a South African crew member suspected of having the Omicron variant was in isolation for the entirety of the November 28 cruise.

Late Sunday evening, the state health department said a total of 17 people from the ship had tested positive, but it did not provide a breakdown of how many were crew and how many were passengers beyond noting that the single "probable" Omicron case was a crewmember. The person was not a Louisiana resident and had not left the ship, the agency said.

The state recorded its first confirmed Omicron case on Sunday, the health department said, but that was unrelated to the Norwegian cruise liner.

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Norwegian said earlier that it requires all passengers and crew members to have been vaccinated against the coronavirus prior to departure. More than 3,200 people had been on board the ship, officials said.

"We are testing all individuals on Norwegian Breakaway prior to disembarkation, as well as providing post-exposure and quarantine public health guidance by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)," the company said in the Saturday statement. "Any guests who have tested positive for COVID-19 will travel by personal vehicle to their personal residence or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the company."
 
The state health department worked with the cruise line and state and local officials to contain the outbreak.

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The Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship is seen docked in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 5, 2021.  WWL-TV

Some disembarking passengers told WVUE-TV in New Orleans that they were notified about the positive cases on the ship, while others said they had no idea about the outbreak until being asked about it by a reporter.
 
"We didn't hear of this until we kind of heard you talking a second ago," said Don Canole, a passenger from North Carolina. "It would have been nice to have known. We would have taken maybe a few more precautions."
 
Passengers said they were tested for COVID-19 exposure on Saturday before disembarking Sunday. The cruise line also gave passengers take-home rapid tests as they left the ship, according to WVUE.

The company said no changes to scheduled future sailings on the Norwegian Breakaway were planned, and the ship left New Orleans on Sunday night, CBS affiliate WWL-TV reports. The Norwegian spokesperson said passengers on that voyage could have canceled their reservations without penalty and those who chose to go on the cruise would have to wear masks indoors if they weren't actively eating or drinking. Passengers will be tested twice during the cruise, the spokesperson said.
 
Cruise ships were an early source of outbreaks last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as some ships were rejected at ports and passengers were forced into quarantine. The CDC issued a no-sail order in March 2020, prompting a standstill that ended last June as cruise ships began to leave U.S. ports with new health and safety requirements.

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