Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance for cruising for the second time in less than a week. The agency eased its warning about Covid-19 risk, citing a lower number of Covid-19 cases reported on vessels recently.
The CDC ratcheted down the travel health notice for cruising from a Level 4 “very high risk” to a Level 3 “high risk,” but told cruisers to make sure they are “up to date” on their vaccinations.
That means booster shots for those who are eligible. As of today, only about half of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot, according to CDC data. The agency recommends that people who have not received a booster shot should avoid cruising.
Only six days earlier, CDC released guidelines for its new voluntary Covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters. On February 9, the agency not only kept cruising at Level 4 for Covid risk, where it had been since December, but added even more hoops for the industry to jump through.
The CDC’s ship rating system now takes booster shots into consideration, with three tiers for the level of vaccination. “Not highly vaccinated” ships will have less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated. “Highly vaccinated” ships will have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated, but have less than that percentage “up to date” with booster shots when applicable. The top tier, “Vaccination Standard of Excellence,” is reserved for ships have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated and boosted when applicable.
Though the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order expired last month and the latest recommendations are technically “voluntary” for cruise line, most cruise lines adopt recommended measures to reassure cruise passengers that they are doing all they can to keep ships safe from the spread of Covid-19.
Cruise lines have until February 18 to opt into the CDC’s updated Covid-19 program. Opting out would mean getting a “gray status,” indicating the CDC cannot confirm the ship’s Covid-19 public health measures.
Just two days before the deadline, 20 ships have opted into the program and none have opted out, according to the CDC’s dashboard. But the vast majority of ships have yet to opt in or out.
Since peaking in mid January, the number of recorded daily Covid-19 infections have plummeted in the United States to about 16% of what they were at the height of the omicron surge, according to CDC data. But the country is still recording roughly 2,200 deaths from coronavirus every day.
Following the announcement on February 9, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise trade group, said it was “dismayed” at the continued Level 4 health notice and “confounded” by the new vaccine-level tiers.
“It seems unnecessarily discriminatory against cruise to maintain that the chances of getting Covid-19 on a cruise is very high even if you are up to date with your Covid-19 vaccines,” CLIA said last week.
On that point, the CDC and the cruise industry are now on the same page. CLIA called yesterday’s decision “a step in the right direction.”