CDC lowers threshold for cruise ships to qualify as 'highly vaccinated' against COVID-19

Morgan Hines
USA TODAY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday it is lowering its threshold for cruise ships to meet a "highly vaccinated" status.  

"CDC has reevaluated and lowered the cruise ship vaccination status thresholds from 95% of passengers to 90% of passengers under the COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships," CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said in an email. 

That means that ships are now to be considered "highly vaccinated" if 90% of passengers and 95% of crew members who are eligible to receive the COVID vaccine are fully vaccinated with a "primary series," or two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"This update is based on modeling data," Skinner said.

Skinner said that the agency used existing COVID-19 data and models to update the policy. 

"Getting vaccinated is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19, and CDC continues to recommend that passengers and crew are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines before cruise travel," he said.

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Cruise lines with ships of any vaccination classification that opted into the COVID-19 program must share the vaccination status of each ship with the CDC. The agency posts the information on its website along with the ship's color status, which indicates the number of COVID-19 cases reported on board.

The agency also clarified its isolation cabin requirements for ships.

Negative air pressure, for example, will no longer be required for isolation cabins, Skinner said. But predetermined cabins for isolation purposes must be in a separate area from the rest of the cabins. 

Cruise Lines International Association, the leading trade organization for the industry, said in a statement that the CDC's change to protocols "recognizes the highly protective measures in place on board cruise ships and is in keeping with the CDC's lifting of any travel-related advisory against cruising."

While the CDC advises passengers to be vaccinated before boarding a cruise ship, it no longer warns against taking a cruise because of COVID-19 risk.

In late March, the health agency dropped its risk assessment of cruise travel after more than two years of warning travelers against the dangers of contracting COVID-19 on a cruise amid the pandemic.

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"CDC is removing the COVID-19 Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice," Dave Daigle, spokesperson for the health agency, told USA TODAY at the time.

The removal of the notice didn't mean that the agency considered the activity to be without any risk. 

"Travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings," Daigle said.