COVID-19 Precautions

9 March 2020 By Aileen Mack

The novel coronavirus that was first reported at the end of 2019 in central China, originating in the city of Wuhan, has since spread to individuals in numerous countries worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the disease COVID-19. While up to 15 percent of those who contract COVID-19 will have a severe infection, most healthy people who contract it will recover uneventfully with mild to moderate symptoms, says Dr. Justin Devlin, senior coordinating doctor for MedAire’s Global Response Centre. It may be more severe for those with underlying health issues.

It is likely transmitted through infected respiratory droplets, which a sick person expels when they cough, sneeze, or talk. Others can get the disease via contact, whether directly or indirectly, with these droplets by inhalation or by touching their face. Risk is low if the person hasn’t traveled to an area with community transmission or been in close contact with someone with the coronavirus.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Geographic Risk Assessment that shows the latest information about the countries with widespread sustained transmission. All unnecessary travel to these areas should be avoided, and MedAire suggests monitoring global health authority travel advisories regularly and adjusting planning accordingly. If someone has visited one of the areas, including crewmembers, they should self-monitor their health for 14 days by taking their temperature twice daily for fever 38°C/100°F or higher, and watch for cough or difficulty breathing. They should remain off the vessel until proven to be symptom free.

“Assess the risk of charter guests and crew coming on board based on symptoms, travel, and contact history,” Devlin says. “They should not board if ill, including with fever, cough, or shortness of breath. They should not board if they are travelling from a high-risk area.”

However, there are some precautions and best practices for crew to help protect those on board. Face masks are not recommended for healthy people as protection, but rather ill people (and those in close contact with them or within two meters/six feet) should wear masks to protect others from the risk of getting infected. There is no evidence that wearing a mask of any type protects non-sick people, Devlin says.

To ease the minds of crew and guests, he suggests having a plan in place for if someone should become ill, which includes a dedicated room to isolate anyone ill, a dedicated person outfitted with personal protection equipment (PPE) to tend to them, and follow the CDC recommendations for cleaning when an ill person is on board. Ensure that the medical kit on board has PPE, including masks, gloves, eye protection, gowns, and biohazard bags, and know how to dispose of it all properly.

For crew and guests on board, MedAire says surgical masks should suffice if needed and when planning for the appropriate number to have on board, consider the number of crew and guests, along with the duration of the voyage. Maintaining good personal hygiene, washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer (containing 60 to 95 percent alcohol) when soap and water aren’t available, and avoiding touching your face are among the primary methods for prevention. Be sure to have plenty of soap, hand sanitizer, and tissues on board to practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette — covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and disposing of used tissues immediately. The WHO recommends maintaining at least one meter, or three feet, between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. And to encourage good hand hygiene, place hand sanitizer stations outside the entrances to common areas.

In addition to the routine cleaning and disinfection strategies, the CDC suggests considering more frequent cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, such as handrails, countertops, and door knobs. If a case develops shoreside near where the vessel is, Devlin says moving out to anchor isn’t entirely necessary, unless you’re trying to limit people coming on/off the vessel.

The situation is rapidly evolving so as events get postponed/canceled globally and countries modify their entry policies, we recommend checking directly with organizations and their websites regarding current policies. We have done our best to gather the changes to yachting events, travel, and relevant businesses: here. Many borders have closed, restricting entry to citizens and residents, and port restrictions vary, so check ahead. Wilhelmsen Ships Server has developed a Global Port Restrictions Map, which is updated on a daily basis, three times a day.

Also, make sure to follow the guidelines of your country, city, or area regarding quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, so although someone may otherwise be healthy, their actions places others at an increased risk as well. On March 16, guidelines for the U.S. were issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It includes working or engaging in schooling from home whenever possible; following CDC guidance on protecting health in the workplace for those in a critical infrastructure industry; avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people; using drive-thru, pickup, or delivery instead of eating or drinking at establishments; and avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits.

According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus, and some spread is possible before people show symptoms. Although a person can become exposed by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their face, it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Planning and preparation are crucial to dealing with this situation, but frequent hand washing, cleaning, and practicing cough etiquette still remain the key precautions for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.