Cruise Ships vs Conferences

I’ve been chatting lots with Samantha about conference travel over the last week or two in light of COVID-19. And it strikes me that there’s a point to be made about cruise ships that I’ve uncovered during those discussions. It may take a while. I’m writing to clarify my thinking.

Most people have a basic idea of the risk of any sort of travel right now. You might get sick. And the illness could be fatal. Hopping on a plane to Seattle and shaking a lot of hands shouldn’t be in anyone’s plans at this point.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that your travel could provide a vector for an infectious community disease to hop a couple of thousand miles. Your activities risk others.

If you care at all about broader societal good you’ll recognize that it’s a bi-directional concern. If you live in Seattle and have been shaking a lot of hands stay off a plane please.

Anyway, back to conferences. You fly off to a conference centre or big hotel, meet and mingle with 3,000 other participants, get a little sightseeing in, maybe a boozy evening or two, fly home. Whatever. Lots of variants.

What threats are you posing as a vector there? If you are or become infectious you risk spreading the disease among the participants. That’s an obvious risk. But the vulnerable population that gets missed is the hotel and restaurant staff. The people you never see who clean the trays and your room.

So what happens to them? Most try to work through the illness. Those that get seriously ill go home or to a hospital and hopefully don’t die.

That in itself is a sobering thought, but I think I’ve gone far enough. Now to the cruise ship. You hop on with 2,999 other holidayers. There are 1500 staff there to serve you. They all live together a couple of decks below you. Just came in yesterday from another cruise.

I’m not sure I want to go on here. The point that I was trying to get to is that we can’t forget the staff as a key vector. They remain through multiple cruises, and are a very close community. If one gets sick they all do. And the passengers on the next cruise get it.

The whole thing is terrifying if you care about not living with the virus in close proximity. Conference travel is rightly being cancelled. What about cruise departures?