A breakthrough this week in the standoff between the CDC’s public health concerns and pressure from cruise states and cruise lines themselves to restart cruising in U.S. waters.
USA Today reports that the CDC communicated to cruise lines in a letter Wednesday that they can bypass arduous test sailings and go straight to cruising with paying guests, providing 98 per cent of crew and 95 per cent of passengers are fully vaccinated.
The new guidance is playing catch up with the cruise industry, since several lines have already announced their plans to begin sailing offshore this summer with 100 per cent, fully vaccinated adult guests and crew.
This major development means cruising could begin in the U.S. by mid-summer.
In the letter, obtained by USA Today, Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s Global Mitigation Task Force for COVID-19, writes, “We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities.”
The game changer comes following intensive meetings between the CDC and cruise industry representatives discussing the Conditional Sail Order and developments like U.S. vaccination rates, and the industry’s successful offshore sailings in places like Asia and the Med.
As Open Jaw has reported, the CDC had already stated that fully vaccinated Americans could safely travel – and that cruising could resume in American waters this summer. Now, they’ve formally married those statements together.
USA Today’s report goes on to quote CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey, with “a more specific timeline. Cruises could begin passenger voyages from the United States in mid-July, depending on cruise lines’ pace and compliance,” with the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order.
While the CSO has not been lifted, CDC has now provided five additions to its guidance that provide a clear path to the resumption of sailing:
- Cruise lines can skip over the earlier, test sailing requirement and go straight to revenue cruises providing 98 per cent of crew and 95 per cent of passengers are fully vaccinated;
- CDC will reduce its response time to 5 from 60 days to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages;
- CDC will update its requirements for cruise pax and crew to align with its requirements for land travellers who are fully vaccinated. The report provides one example: that cruise pax would be permitted to take a simple, rapid test upon embarkation.
- CDC has “clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a “multi-port agreement” rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement;” and
- CDC has clarified “quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19. For example, local passengers may be able to drive home, and passengers who have traveled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel.”
Some unanswered questions remain. For example, it’s not clear if “95 per cent” of fully vaccinated pax refers to adults only. Currently, no vaccine for COVID-19 has been approved for use in those under 18, which would limit family cruising.
But there’s no doubt that, after over a year at anchor, the U.S. cruise industry is prepared to sail ‘full speed ahead’ with this new guidance that charts a clear course towards a resumption of the world’s biggest cruise market.