Passenger Vessels

CDC Updates Guidance On Cruises

In the United States, inland and nearshore cruising returned to the inland waterways and coastal waters last spring and summer, with blue water cruises returning to some ports late in the summer or fall. 

Now, however, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its Travel Health Notice level for cruise ship travel. Previously, the CDC gave cruise ship travel a Level 3 warning, meaning a high risk of COVID-19. The new guidance, announced December 30, 2021, moved that to a Level 4 warning—its highest such warning.

“Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status,” the CDC warned. “Even fully vaccinated travelers may be a risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.” 

Elsewhere, the agency stated, “The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose.”

The announcement from the CDC came after several cruise ships reported outbreaks of COVID-19 aboard cruise ships, despite requirements that passengers and crew members be vaccinated and obtain a negative test prior to boarding.

The CDC’s latest guidance didn’t sit well with the cruise industry. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released a statement the same day the CDC announced its updated guidance.

“The decision by the CDC to raise the travel level for cruise is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore,” CLIA stated. “No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus. Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land.”

According to CLIA, vaccination rates onboard cruise ships is around 95 percent, while the general population is above 60 percent. The cruise industry also administers close to 10 million tests per week, “21 times the rate of testing the United States,” according to CLIA. Since blue water cruising resumed in June 2021, more than 100 cruise ships have carried close to a million people, CLIA stated.