In a surprise statement 18JUL, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that, effective that same day, its program for mitigating COVID transmission via cruise ship is no longer in effect.
The cancellation of the COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships means there will be no standards or requirements for pre-cruise testing, mask wearing, or vaccination status - effective immediately. The CDC will no longer be publishing colour-coded numbers of cases on cruise ships, either.
As the CDC’s statement says, “CDC has determined that the cruise industry has access to the necessary tools (e.g., cruise-specific recommendations and guidance, vaccinations, testing instruments, treatment modalities, and non-pharmaceutical interventions) to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 on board.
Therefore, CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships is no longer in effect as of today.”
Going forward, the statement adds, CDC will continue to publish cruise-specific guidance. But the sunsetting of the program finally removes the singling-out of cruising among other activities and even travel activities.
In its statement, the CDC acknowledges, “While cruising poses some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers can make their own risk assessment when choosing to cruise, much like they do in other settings. CDC continues to recommend that cruise travelers remain up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and get tested for COVID-19 before and after they travel, and after any known exposure to a person with COVID-19.
CDC also continues to recommend mask wearing in indoor travel settings.”
While the program in its most recent, final phase, was ‘voluntary’ for cruise lines, in practice, all the major cruise lines opted into the program, with the unspoken threat of a return of greater restrictions hanging over them.
Kristen Nordlund of the CDC apparently told Cruise Week, "Technically there never were requirements as under the voluntary program, cruise lines could set thresholds for vaccination."
But as Cruise Week points out, “as she termed it, that was a technicality.”
Not Necessarily a Free-for-all on Cruise Ships
Expect to see a number of cruise lines update their health and safety protocols in the coming days and weeks.
But that’s not to say that all restrictions and mandates will necessarily be dropped by all cruise lines. Rather, they will weigh health protocols by their own safety merits for their guests, crew, and residents in ports of call against operational functionality.
CLIA quickly applauded the CDC’s decision to end the program “in favor of a set of guidelines for public health operations on cruise ships.”
The industry organization went on to say it was looking forward to seeing details of the guidelines “which we understand will be posted on the CDC website in the coming days. This is an important step forward in the CDC aligning the guidelines for cruise with those it has established for other travel, hospitality, and entertainment sectors.”