“We’ll cruise again, and we’ll cruise safely, we might cruise a little differently.”
was how former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt summed up a video conversation with Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain on the work of the Healthy-Sail” panel announced Monday by the company together with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in order to advise on protocols for a resumption of cruising once the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifts its no-sail order.
Leavitt was named as co-chair of the panel of experts together with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the US Food and Drug Administration.
Adapting to a new risk environment
In an extensive conversation with Fain, Leavitt described the panel as a “public health venture … on a problem-solving mission to help the cruise industry figure out how to adapt to a new risk environment that we have never seen before.”
Discussing how he and Gottlieb had put together the panel, Leavitt said: “We knew we needed to have people with long experience who had deep credibility with those who regulate the industry.
“So, we chose not just people who are subject matter experts, but that had deep and broad experience, who could judge the adequacy of different measures and combinations of ways of adapting and who could innovate and could see innovation when it occurred. And we’re willing, as a result of their experience, to push forward and give things a try. And we’re also supplementing the expert panel with a whole series of subject matter expertise from all over the world who can assist them in being able to assure that that we have the best available knowledge in every category.”
Experience working for the CDC
Leavitt noted that the majority of the members of the panel have actually worked at the CDC, from running major departments to actually running the Center for Disease Control.
“Several of them have deep academic interest in this area,” he said. “Things like ventilation, things like testing and sanitation are all very important subcomponents of how you deal with this new risk environment that we’re dealing with. And so we put together this combination not just because of their subject matter expertise, but because they have had long experience in evaluating ideas and being able to come to an understanding that there’s no place in our society that you can say is absolutely 100 percent safe.”
“We all manage risks every day, whether we’re walking across the street or opening a package of food. There’s some kind of risk involved in all of that. The idea isn’t that we can eliminate all of that. The idea is we can manage it and understand that perspective and recognize that it requires judgment to do this well.
“We looked for people who had long standing judgment, experience, whose track record gave them credibility and who had some level of public health or scientific expertise or engineering that could assist in being able to evaluate new ideas and determine when we had actually done all we can do.”
As safe as possible
Leavitt explained that in order to resume sailing each cruise line will be required to develop a plan to demonstrate to various regulators that they have adapted to the COVID-19 environment and to assure that they have made the environment as safe as possible.
The job of the panel, he said is to populate the thinking of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian so that when they provide those plans, they will have been populated with the best public health, engineering and scientific information available.
Healthy-Sail – Initial recommendations by August 15
Despite only being announced Monday, the panel has already been working for over a month now and plans to issue initial recommendations by August 15.
At that time, Leavitt said, the panel would present the “very evident changes that can be made to enhance safety, that can be incorporated in plans that the various cruise lines will then submit to regulators, and will then use the period of time after that to look at deeper innovations. We’re already finding some very exciting ways to adapt technology, for example, to make it not only safer but more convenient and to a large extent, a smoother experience.”
The advantage of isolation
Regarding the unique challenge posed in ensuring a safe environment on a cruise ship because it is an isolated environment, Leavitt said that can be turned into an advantage. “Reality is, it’s probably a lot easier because it’s isolated,” he said. “I look at what’s happening with the NBA right now where they’ve consolidated all the games in one place where they could essentially create an isolation. That’s where they could conduct their business in a more controlled way. Well, it’s become evident to me that the isolation can be seen not as a disadvantage, but as a great advantage. And one of the ways in which we will adapt will be to utilize that as an asset as opposed to seeing it as simply a liability.
We’ll live in a better world than before
Leavitt also discussed how when he was Secretary of Health, he was on a panel with Dr. Scott Gottlieb that was responsible for overseeing the creation of a national pandemic plan and how he had learned from his experiences there that eventually things will return to normal.
“We were dealing with a different virus that did not become nearly this serious, but it caused us to understand how big a challenge this is. And so, we were tasked with by Congress and by the President to develop this initial plan. It caused me to go back and study pandemics literally for the last two thousand years where there were written records of it.
“There is a pattern here and one of the major components is that it changes everything. If you look at the history of pandemics, you’re not just looking at the history of disease. You’re looking at the history of humankind. Because it changes the economics. It changes sociology. It changes the politics…. It’s a moment where big changes occur and if you look at major shifts that have come as a result of these pandemics, well, they were extraordinarily costly in both human suffering and also in economic terms.
“They also were the initiator of wide scientific and engineering and sociological advances and I have little question that that is what’s happening right now.
And yes, we’ll cruise again and we’ll cruise safely. We might cruise a little differently.
….. Life will have a sense of normality again. And the result will be that we’ll live in a better world than we were in before.