After two years, CDC removes coronavirus travel warning for cruises
From the Orlando Sentinel
The coast is clear as far as cruise lines, COVID-19 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is concerned.
The CDC on Wednesday officially removed any level of travel warning for cruises, which means the federal agency no longer considers it a risky venture to catch the virus, although cases are still a possibility on board.
“While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings,” said CDC spokesperson Nick Spinelli in an email.
If a new wave of COVID were to threaten travelers again, the CDC could bring back its warning, and it still recommends COVID-19 precautions.
“Cruise ship travelers should make sure they are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines before cruise ship travel and follow their cruise ship’s requirements and recommendations,” Spinelli said.
Two years ago, the CDC took the cruise industry to task, warning that its confined spaces made them more susceptible to the risk of the spread of COVID.
In its Travel Health Notices, the CDC had recently re-upped cruise travel to its highest risk level — Level 4 — as the omicron variant spread in late December recommending people to avoid cruise travel, especially those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
As the threat of omicron waned, the CDC lowered it back to Level 3 in mid-February and to the moderate Level 2 earlier this month. Now the notice is gone from the CDC site.
Cruise Lines International Association spokesperson Laziza Lambert said the move represents an accurate assessment of just how much cruise lines have done to fight the virus.
“Today’s decision by the (CDC) to altogether remove the Travel Health Notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020,” she said in an emailed statement.
The CDC still tracks the spread of COVID-19 on ships sailing from the U.S. under a voluntary program involving 108 ships from lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and most others have opted into.
Most ships sailing are designated “highly vaccinated,” meaning at least 95% passengers and crew have received at least the initial one- or two-dose regimen of shots from among approved vaccines.
Of the 108 tracked ships, only 23 sailing with passengers are labeled as Green, meaning no reported COVID cases on board within the last week. There are 35 ships labeled Yellow, meaning less than 0.3% of passengers or 1% of crew with positive cases, while another 34 are labeled Orange, meaning those thresholds have been exceeded.
For example, a 4,000-passenger ship would need 12 passengers on board to be infected in order to be labeled as Orange.
Ship status is tracked using a dashboard on the CDC website.
The cruise industry was shut down globally in March 2020 and only began sailing from the U.S. last June. Things were ramping up with more ships coming back online in the fall until omicron tamped down the progress. Some lines even canceling some sailings in early January.
With fewer and fewer cases each week, cruise line officials applauded the CDC’s status change.
“While we feel this was a long time coming, we recognize this move as a demonstration of all of the hard work this industry has done to ensure that we’re offering the safest way to travel,” said Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin. “It’s refreshing to see them meet us where we’re at, and clearly where our consumers are at considering the major uptick in demand we’ve seen.”
The shift from the CDC may only reinforce a trend seen by cruise lines and port officials in the last month.
“Things are looking good [now] that omicron’s behind us,” said Port Canaveral CEO John Murray at a port commission meeting last week. “All the ships are signed into the new CDC program and they’re selling out the ships, which is a good thing.”