CRUISES

New quarantine, social distancing recommendations: CDC updates COVID guidance for cruise ships

Morgan Hines
USA TODAY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday published an update to its guidance for cruise ships participating in the health agency's COVID-19 program.

The updates are based on the "latest public health conditions" so ships can continue operating in a manner that provides a safe and healthy environment for passengers, crew and the communities ships visit, David Daigle, spokesperson for the CDC, told USA TODAY. 

Cruise Lines International Association, the leading trade organization for the industry, told USA TODAY in a statement shared by spokesperson Laziza Lambert that the changes to the CDC's guidance were "welcome." 

"The updates announced today acknowledge the effectiveness of the cruise lines in their ability to create an environment that provides one of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation and reflect the improvements in the public health landscape," CLIA said.

Daigle said Friday's main updates, which are effective immediately, include:

  • Updating the physical distancing requirements for shore excursions and transportation.
  • Updating quarantine guidance for close contacts.
  • Revising components of port agreements.

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What do the CDC updates mean for cruisers?

According to the CDC's "Operations Manual for CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters":

  • Physical distancing during shore excursions and transportation will turn into a recommendation for "Highly Vaccinated" and "Vaccination Standard of Excellence" ships. 
  • "Highly vaccinated" ships have at least 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated. "Not highly vaccinated" ships have less than 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated. Ships that fall under the third and newest tier, "vaccination standard of excellence," have at least 95% of passengers and crew "up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines, which would mean full vaccination plus any eligible booster shots. 
  • Cruise lines can resume approved "passenger interactive experiences" that had to be suspended before because of COVID-19. 
  • The length of quarantine for close contacts still depends on vaccination status, Daigle said. However, with the new guidance, if a traveler is disembarking from the ship within 36 hours, the cruise ship operator may allow the traveler to stay in their original cabin if they will be alone in the cabin.
  • The general components of port agreements have been revised and the CDC has clarified what documentation is needed for medical and housing agreements, according to Daigle.

The remainder of the guidance for the voluntary program outlined in February remains the same, Daigle confirmed. 

"While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, this program provides passengers with the resources and tools they need to determine if the cruise they are planning is safe," Daigle said, noting the CDC is working closely with ships participating in the program to monitor COVID-19 protocol.

CDC says risk of getting COVID-19 on ships is moderate

Before adjusting protocols Friday for cruises in its voluntary COVID-19 program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Tuesday lowered its assessment of cruising to Level 2 or "moderate" risk.

Cruise ships had been lowered to Level 3 status in mid-February after being at Level 4 since December.

The health agency recommends that all cruise ships operating in U.S. waters choose to take part in the program, though it is voluntary. While it's optional, 110 cruise ships have opted in and only one opted out of participation, according to the CDC's Cruise Ship Status Dashboard which provides info on COVID-19 levels present on ships and what kinds of precautions those vessels are taking. 

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Contributing: Bailey Schulz, Eve Chen