Cruise lines bring aboard health experts as they look to regain the public's trust post-COVID

click to enlarge The Viking Mississippi - Image via Viking Cruises
Image via Viking Cruises
The Viking Mississippi
As cruise lines prepare to relaunch next year, many are looking to ensure the outbreaks that kept them in the news for much of this year never recur. Upgraded air filtration systems, improved onboard health clinics, and numerous new safety protocols are quickly becoming standard across the industry. Many cruise lines are also adding health officer positions.

Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, M.D. has been hired by Viking as its Chief Health Officer - Image via Viking | PRNewswire
Image via Viking | PRNewswire
Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, M.D. has been hired by Viking as its Chief Health Officer
Viking was just the latest line to add such a position when Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, M.D., was joined the luxury cruise line. Dr. Bono has led Washington State's medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, she made a name for herself while serving in the United States Navy Medical Corps, where she is the first female Navy medical officer to have achieved three-star rank. She also served as the Chief Executive Officer and Director for the Defense Health Agency (DHA).

While her military service was praised in Viking's announcement, Viking’s chairman's comments also point to her successful COVID-19 response in Washington State as one of the significant reasons the cruise line selected her for the position.

"Dr. Bono brings valuable perspective informed by an extraordinary career that has included decorated military service, trauma surgery and health care administration. Additionally, her work as the head of Washington state's COVID-19 health care response team makes her uniquely qualified to be our Chief Health Officer as we finalize plans for operating cruises safely," said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking. "We are proud to officially welcome Dr. Bono to the Viking family, and we will soon be sharing more details about the Viking Health & Safety Program, which we believe is one of the most well-researched and comprehensive COVID-19 prevention and mitigation plans in the travel industry."

The move by Viking comes after a similar position was created at Royal Caribbean Group. Royal Caribbean also turned to a medical expert with statewide experience, selecting Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of Health, Dr. Calvin Johnson, as their new Global Head of Public Health and Chief Medical Officer. Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line, where Dr. Carlos J. Gonzalez has served as the Chief Medical Officer since 2015, has committed to having a public health officer onboard every vessel when cruising resumes. Carnival has had a Chief Medical Officer position for nearly two decades, with Dr. Grant Tarling serving in the role.

Having the additional medical experts should allow cruise lines to respond to future health concerns more quickly while also regularly looking at ensuring all passengers and crew are kept as safe as possible. This comes after the CDC has all but shut down cruising until further notice due to a months-long No Sail Order followed by strict regulations that are nearly impossible to meet in a timely fashion.

All major cruise lines are engaged in ongoing conversations on how best to ensure the safe return of cruising, which, for the U.S., is now expected to take place sometime in 2021.

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