Cruising could resume from U.S. ports by mid-July aboard ships with at least 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, the nation’s top health protection agency announced.
A key official of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delivered a set of revised guidelines Wednesday that could clear the way for cruising more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down.
The guidelines follow a high-profile campaign by top industry officials, and a lawsuit by Florida’s attorney general, demanding that the CDC allow the industry — crucial to Florida’s tourism economy — to resume operations from Florida’s six cruise ports this summer.
Still unknown is how Gov. Ron DeSantis will respond to the CDC’s statement that cruise lines can speed up their resumptions if nearly all crew and passengers are vaccinated.
Earlier this month, DeSantis said cruise lines would not be exempted from his executive order barring businesses from requiring “vaccine passports.” The governor’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment about the CDC letter.
The revised guidelines follow discussions with cruise industry representatives aimed at identifying “the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety,” according to a CDC statement.
— Simulated voyages required by previous CDC guidance won’t be necessary if a ship attests that 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
— If a cruise line applies to conduct simulated voyages, the CDC will review and respond to the application within five days instead of 60 days.
— Vaccinated crew members and passengers will be allowed to take simplified viral tests.
— Cruise ship operators will be allowed to enter into multiport agreements instead of separate agreements with each port. These agreements are meant to ensure that medical and housing facilities near ports are available in case of a large-scale infection onboard ships. Multiport agreements may be suitable if one port has limited medical or housing capacity and a nearby port is able to supplement these capacities.
— Infected passengers could be allowed to use their own vehicles to drive to their homes and quarantine, reducing the contracted housing capacity cruise lines must demonstrate.
In her letter to the industry, Aimee Treffiletti, captain of the CDC’s Global Migration Task Force’s maritime unit, affirmed that it won’t be possible for cruise lines to guarantee that no one can get infected.
“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the [CDC’s goal] is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” Treffiletti wrote.
“We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in [CDC guidelines] by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines.”
In a separate statement, the CDC said it “looks forward to continued engagement with the industry” and urges cruise lines to submit port agreements “as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July.”
Cruise Lines International Association, a trade organization representing all of the major lines, said it was still reviewing the clarifications.
Meanwhile, CLIA called the CDC’s statement encouraging. “We are optimistic that these clarifications show positive progression — and importantly, a demonstrated commitment to constructive dialogue, which is key to restarting cruising as we have seen with other governments and health authorities around the world,” said Laziza Lambert, CLIA’s manager of strategic communications.