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Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in San Francisco with 143 cases of COVID-19

For the third time this year, the same Princess Cruise Lines ship has docked in California with passengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Ruby Princess arrived in San Francisco on April 11 after a trip to Hawaii in which 143 passengers on board tested positive for the virus, the city's health department told CBS MoneyWatch. More than 70 people were found to have COVID-19 in March while on the same ship after it returned from a 15-day cruise to the Panama Canal. In January, 12 passengers arriving in San Francisco following a 10-day Mexico cruise on the Ruby Princess were found to have COVID-19 after being randomly tested for the virus.

Passengers on the Hawaii cruise told the San Jose Mercury News that they noticed signs of an outbreak almost immediately. 

"It was quite clear that there were a large percentage of passengers that were sick, but unless you self-reported, you were free to keep going and infect other passengers," California resident Ted Vomacka told the Mercury News. "It was obvious from observing all the coughing and hacking that some form of infection was going around."  

San Francisco's health department said everyone aboard the Hawaii cruise was vaccinated and that the people who tested positive showed mild or no symptoms. 

"Only one person was hospitalized, which speaks to the incredible efficacy of vaccination," the department said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating the Ruby Princess over the virus outbreaks, along with four other Princess Cruise ships where COVID-19 has surfaced.

Princess isn't the only cruise line still line battling with the virus. The CDC is also investigating outbreaks on more than a dozen Royal Caribbean cruise ships and more than a dozen Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Cruise ships are required to notify the CDC of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board.

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CDC officials told CBS MoneyWatch in an emailed statement that they're investigating 53 cruise ships for having too many COVID-19 outbreaks. Cruise ships — not just the Ruby Princess — have created a particularly tough challenge for passengers trying to steer clear of the virus, the agency said.

"Cruise travel is not a zero-risk activity," the CDC said. "COVID-19, like other illnesses, can spread quickly in group settings like cruise ships because of close indoor proximity and extensive social interactions among passengers on board."

Cruise operators were battered by COVID-19 outbreaks in the early days of the pandemic, with ships bearing infected passengers barred from docking in California and Florida. The Grand Princess, another Princess Cruises-owned ship, was quarantined at sea for six days after 21 people on board contracted the virus. 

The number of people booking cruises plummeted over the past two years, as the CDC cautioned against cruises regardless of a person's vaccination status. In 2020 and 2021, cruise companies collectively lost $63 billion and shed thousands of jobs, according to industry data. The Cruise Lines International Association said the industry is expected to make a full recovery by next year.

Princess Cruise Lines did not return requests for comment about the latest virus outbreak on the Ruby Princess. In a statement to the Mercury News, the company said its COVID-19 "protocols that have been established work." 

"When cases are identified because of the testing on board, cruise ship protocols help to maximize onboard containment with rapid response procedures designed to safeguard all other guests and crew as well as the communities that the ships visit," the cruise line told the newspaper.

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