DEAN NELSON (he/him) CRDE, LLD
A Royal Breath of Fresh Air
Sciences Leads the Way for Royal Caribbean Group’s HVAC System
There's nothing like breathing fresh air while cruising the open ocean. But what happens once you step inside a cruise ship — how does the air flow into your stateroom, restaurant and other spaces on board? This is precisely what Royal Caribbean Group wanted to confirm and understand in detail. Enter the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI), with the support of the Healthy Sail Panel, globally recognized experts in medical practice and research, public health, infectious diseases, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations to recommend the most effective, scientifically sound ways to make the cruise experience healthier and safer. The team from UNMC and NSRI — specialists in bioaerosols (the study of airborne particles) and more recently worked with the U.S. Department of Defense on the study of air flow on airplanes — boarded a Royal Caribbean Group ship while berthed in Miami in July 2020. The scientists set out to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of the ship's air management as well as understand how aerosols pass through the HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.
Their work confirmed that under the current HVAC system the transmission of aerosol particles between spaces through the air handling system is exceptionally low and undetectable both on surfaces and in the air in most test cases. This is thanks to the robust and efficient system originally designed into the ship for maximum ventilation, continual fresh air intake and filtration. To add layers of safety and further minimize the possibility of spread, the team recommended adjusting shipboard settings to allow for the maximum air changes per hour and upgrading to MERV 13 filters throughout the system. In the medical facility, already equipped with an independent ventilation system, HEPA filters have been added for extra precaution.
"Our existing HVAC system is designed with several layers to continuously bring in the ocean air and filter it multiple times before it reaches our guests and crew. We are glad to see the study conclude that our robust system is effective in reducing transmission,” said Patrik Dahlgren, Royal Caribbean Group’s senior vice president of Global Marine Operations and a member of the Healthy Sail Panel. "By taking a scientific approach and implementing recommendations made by the experts at University of Nebraska Medical Center and the National Strategic Research Institute, we’ve created an environment that is even safer for our guests and crew. And we’ve done so without compromising their comfort — which is always front of mind because this is our guests’ vacations and our crew’s home at sea."
The study by UNMC and NSRI scientists, conducted in July 2020, helped inform the Healthy Sail Panel’s 74 detailed best practices to safeguard the health of guests, crew and communities cruise ships visit. Upgrading HVAC systems was among the critical recommendations outlined in a 65-plus-page report submitted in September. The robust set of measures put forth by the panel and adopted by the cruise industry as a whole is rooted in science, data-driven and developed with guidance from specialists, such as UNMC and NSRI bioaerosol team, public health authorities around the world and Royal Caribbean Group’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson. Royal Caribbean Group is built on innovation, relentless attention to detail and commitment to exceeding your expectations. With effective air management and by upgrading supply and exhaust filters to MERV 13 — coupled with everyone taking part in keeping each other as safe as possible by adopting today’s common best practices — the potential of a virus like COVID-19 spreading on board is even lower. There’s no more important investment in this ever-changing world than the health and safety of you — Royal Caribbean Group's guests, crew and the communities they visit.
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