'I am ecstatic': COVID-19 vaccine inspires confidence among cruise passengers, industry
Nancy Sobel, who calls herself a "cruiseaholic," is ready to get back out to sea and started getting ready to do so once news of the COVID-19 vaccine's distribution broke.
Sobel had four cruises booked for 2020 before the pandemic struck, including one transatlantic cruise with her son from New York to Rome in May, which was canceled.
"When the vaccine became a reality, I booked the same trip, but in reverse for November 2021," Sobel told USA TODAY.
Many cruisers were willing to get back on board cruise ships even before vaccine distribution began.
But now, with vaccines being distributed rapidly around the nation, more cruise passengers, along with the industry officials and health authorities, have voiced confidence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains vaccines could help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, which haven't sailed in U.S. waters since March after multiple outbreaks on ships at the pandemic's onset.
Caitlin Shockey, a spokesperson for the CDC, told USA TODAY that vaccinations paired with other preventative measures such as COVID-19 testing before and after travel, mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and frequent cleaning can be an effective strategy to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 during travel – including on cruises.
"As effective vaccines become more widely available in the U.S. and internationally, they can be used to reduce the risk of travel-related transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 and the movement of the virus from one location to another," Shockey said.
Adam Goldstein, global chair of Cruise Lines International Association, the leading industry organization, told USA TODAY that he believes a vaccine will help as cruise lines look to head back to sea.
"f you look at the big picture, clearly it's good news for everybody," Goldstein said. "(The vaccine is an) incredible achievement of human knowledge and science. It's a boon to everybody, and the cruise industry will clearly be a beneficiary."
Goldstein added that CLIA's view remains that a multilayered approach, including universal COVID-19 testing, is the right one to help mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on board a cruise ship.
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Passengers feel more optimistic
And passengers who may have been hesitant to reboard ships are feeling more optimistic, too.
Gay Courter was on board the Diamond Princess, which was among the first ships that had to quarantine passengers because of coronavirus infections. More than 700 people were infected with the virus, and more than a dozen died. Courter has since written a book about the experience and said she is inspired by the news and believes everyone on board should be vaccinated before cruising again – though that isn't a requirement for now for future cruisers.
She added that she has seen some cruisers on forums saying they wouldn't be willing to get the vaccine.
"Cruise lines have tried various strategies to isolate and wear masks, but all have failed," Courter told USA TODAY of cruises that have had coronavirus cases in Europe and Asia, where operations have restarted. "Cruising will continue to be a viral nightmare unless everyone on the ship has the vaccine."
"There should be vaccination passports – just like we had years ago verifying that we had smallpox, typhoid, polio, etc. – in order to keep those countries safe," she added, noting "travel is not a given right."
Myla Goldman, a frequent cruiser, doesn't have any hesitation about getting back on board. "I am ecstatic that there are several viable vaccines," she told USA TODAY.
In fact, Goldman is so comfortable with the idea of getting back to sea that she has decided to live on a cruise ship. "I am going to be a resident of Storylines condo/cabin residential ship. They are building a new ship, ready in 2023, and I am so happy to join them."
If cruising becomes a viable option before then, Goldman said, Storylines may charter a ship for residents to live on until 2023. She's "all for" that.
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But when can passenger cruises sail in the U.S.?
Regardless of cruisers' interest levels, it's unclear when passenger cruises will restart in U.S. waters, though cruise companies including Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Group have restarted cruises abroad with some starts and stops.
The cruise industry suspended cruises until 2021 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "no-sail" order expired at the end of October and was replaced by a "conditional sailing order."
But that doesn't mean passengers will start sailing come January. In fact, most major cruise lines have already extended their sailing suspensions into 2021 in U.S. waters, with some cancellations into March.
"This 'Framework of Conditional Sailing' lays out a pathway – a phased, deliberate and intentional pathway – toward resuming passenger services but only when it is safe, when (the cruise industry) can assure health and when they are responsible with respects of needs of crew passengers and port communities," Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told USA TODAY when the order was announced Oct. 30.
After announcing the order, the CDC published a Level 4 travel notice in late November advising that "all people" should avoid travel on cruise ships worldwide because "the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high."
"Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships," the organization said on its website.
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