At the end of last week, Carnival Corporation chair Micky Arison said that he’d make any number of cruise ships available as floating hospital facilities while the Coronavirus pandemic runs its course. The boats could be outfitted to host patients for non-virus related treatment.
"We’re discussing where it can be most useful," President Trump said at a Friday news conference after Arison approached him with the offer. "If we needed something, they would be willing to. So far, we haven’t needed to." Trump suggested the boats could be of most use to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, where the rising number of cases is causing hospital bed shortages.
While the Trump administration continues to carefully and slowly weigh options, coastal cities are desperate for action—but experts are concerned about the viability of healthcare aboard Carnival’s ships.
"All of the rooms are very tiny. They’re difficult to get in and out of," said Tara C. Smith, an epidemiology professor at Kent University, to the New York Times. Since the rooms are set up like hotel suites, they’d have to undergo radical transformations, and they’d need to accommodate a variety of ailments. "Even if you’re not thinking about COVID-19, you still need to think about infection control."
The layout of cruise ships makes them highly susceptible to the spread of viruses—Norovirus is familiar culprit—and last year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention gave one of Carnival’s ships its worst rating ever on a sanitation report. Carnival Corporation also owns Princess Cruises—a line which has suffered several coronavirus outbreaks in the past few weeks.
Although a crisis of this kind and magnitude hasn’t plagued the U.S. in recent history—or maybe ever—it’s not the first time Carnival has hosted in a nationwide emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency signed a $236 million dollar deal for three vessels when Hurricane Maria struck in 2005.
In that same year, President Trump hired one of Arison’s boats for a cruise to the Caribbean with cast members from "The Apprentice." Later, Carnival sponsored a 2017 cruise when the show rebooted its reality edition.
These previous business ties make some wary. "It’s a way of generating income, so they can generate a million or two million in income. They’re not idiots," says Ross Klein, a university sociologist who studies the cruise industry. As of now, there are no competing contracts from other cruise companies.
Two Navy ships have already been deployed by the Trump administration, and they’re far better equipped to serve as hospitals. The layouts are geared for a variety of applications, and doctors and nurses have access to onboard operating rooms like those found in traditional hospitals. It raises valid questions surrounding both Arison’s offer and Trump’s interest in using Carnival’s vessels—especially since experts regard the vessels as expensive and ill-suited life preservers.
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