For the first time in two years, the U.S Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) has removed its warning against traveling on a cruise ship.
The news was a very welcomed change for the cruise industry, which has put in place effective health protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships since the onset of the pandemic.
Just two weeks ago, the CDC lowered its travel warning to a Level 2, which signals ‘moderate risk’. This is a far cry from its December 2021 guidance, in which the agency warned travelers against cruise ship travel, regardless of vaccination.
Today, the CDC has removed its warning on cruise ship travel entirely, meaning the government agency sees no reason to deter travelers from cruising due to COVID-19 concerns.
Instead, the CDC encourages travelers to be up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations before boarding a cruise ship. Additionally, the agency recommends travelers get tested for COVID-19 within 3 days of setting sail; preferably, travelers should get tested as closely to sailing as possible to ensure a healthy vacation.
The CDC also recommends that travelers wear a well-fitting mask during transportation to and from the cruise port. The agency also encourages cruisers to have travel insurance for their sailing.
For those who are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe illness, the CDC recommends travelers consult with their healthcare providers about additional precautions that should be considered before, during and after the cruise.
A Welcome Change
Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC has cautioned travelers against cruise ship travel, citing the increased risk of disease spread due to close living quarters. The cruise industry was only allowed to resume sailing by operating under the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order, which maintained rigorous protocols for testing, vaccination and masking.
Starting in January 2022, the Conditional Sailing Order expired, which made the sailing guidance optional for cruise lines.
With cruise lines requiring COVID-19 vaccinations and pre-departure tests, along with onboard protocols, overall COVID-19 cases onboard have plummeted.
Speaking to USA Today, CDC spokesperson Dave Daigle explained the agency’s decision was based on the pandemic’s current state, along with the encouraging case rate trends onboard cruise ships within the last few weeks.
Daigle explained, "CDC is removing the COVID-19 Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice. Travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings."
Today’s news signals a new phase of the pandemic with the CDC allowing travelers to assess their own risk when deciding whether to cruise or not. The travel industry has been vocal about dropping travel warnings and requirements given the effectiveness of the vaccination, along with wide availability of testing and COVID-19 treatments available.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement following the removal of the warning, "Today’s decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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."
"From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA’s cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting."
The CDC said on Wednesday that it would continue to provide health guidance to cruise lines as the world learns to manage life with COVID-19.
Travelers are also encouraged to monitor their ship’s current number of COVID-19 cases onboard using its tracking dashboard and the CDC’s color coding system. The dashboard shows that 106 cruise ships are currently opted-in to the voluntary program. Of those, 103 ships are considered highly vaccinated ships, in which 95% or more of passengers onboard are vaccinated.