Marilyn Tackett was excited to go on her first trip outside the US when she boarded the Carnival Vista cruise ship before it disembarked from Texas on July 31, according to a GoFundMe set up for the 77-year-old Oklahoma woman's family. She went on an excursion with her family when the ship docked in Roatan on August 3, but by the next day, she wasn't feeling well and declined to disembark for an excursion in Belize, according to a Belize newspaper. Her family returned from the excursion to find the retired Sunday School teacher struggling to breathe, and she tested positive for COVID-19. She was hospitalized in Belize and placed on a ventilator, and evacuated August 6 to a Tulsa hospital, but she died on August 14, the New York Times reports.
Twenty-six crew members also tested positive and were isolated, and no new cases had been reported by August 11. The ship had returned to Texas August 7 and set sail again on another weeklong cruise the same day, Fox 26 reports. The 27-person outbreak is the highest number of COVID cases reported aboard a cruise ship since cruises restarted in the US and Caribbean in June, and Tackett's is the first COVID death. "We never suggested our ships would be COVID free," says a Carnival exec. "But we designed our protocols to meet and exceed the guidelines of the CDC." The CDC last week warned anyone at risk for severe illness from COVID to avoid cruises even if they're vaccinated.
According to a press release out of Belize, 99.98% of the crew were fully vaccinated and 96.5% of passengers were; everyone who tested positive was fully vaccinated. Carnival tells Axios that Tackett "almost certainly did not contract COVID on our ship." On Monday, cruise lines including Carnival announced new vaccination and testing requirements on some cruises as the delta variant surges, the Washington Post reports. There was some uproar over Tackett being left in Belize; earlier this month, Royal Caribbean announced it would fly passengers who tested positive during a cruise home on a private jet and cover all associated costs. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)