New Quarantines, Social Distancing Recommendations: CDC Updates COVID Guidance For Cruise Ships

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

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 due to COVID. 
  • 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 protocol.

CDC says risk of getting COVID on ships is moderate

Before adjusting protocols Friday for cruises in its voluntary COVID program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 levels present on ships and what kinds of precautions those vessels are taking. 

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Contributing: Bailey Schulz, Eve Chen

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