CDC says U.S. cruises could restart in mid-July

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified members of the cruise industry Wednesday that cruises in and out of American ports could restart in July, if certain conditions are met, according to reporting by USA Today.

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The letter, which USA Today obtained, suggests that with mitigation measures, cruises that had been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic could resume by mid-summer.

Resuming cruise line schedules would depend on several factors, the CDC said.

“CDC looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and urges cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July,” CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told USA Today.

The port agreements are part of the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order which outlines safety precautions cruise lines must take to resume carrying passengers in U.S. waters.

“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,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for the CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force for COVID-19, said in the letter.

The CDC issued a “no sail order” on March 14, 2020, three days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Now, if cruise lines want to resume sailing in U.S. waters and use U.S. ports they must get approval of their safety plans from the CDC.

According to the agency’s website, the CDC “still recommends avoiding any travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high. It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises,” the agency’s website says.

The CDC updated the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order on April 2 to include additional guidance on when sailings could safely resume, and have issued clarifications to that update. One clarification allows ships to bypass a once required simulated test voyage carrying volunteers and go straight to cruises with paying passengers if 98% of the crew and 95% of the passengers are fully vaccinated.

The state of Florida has filed a lawsuit against the CDC, calling for the agency to remove its restriction on cruises and allow the industry to resume sailings after sitting idle for a year.

Florida Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have introduced legislation that calls for an end to the CDC’s ban on cruises.

“The benefits of cruise operations are integral to the economies of Florida’s port cities,” Rubio said. “Floridians and many other Americans who are employed by ports, cruise operators, or work in hospitality jobs near cruise terminals face an uncertain future because of the CDC’s unresponsiveness to requests for guidance by stakeholder groups.”

According to the bill, Rubio and Scott’s legislation:

  • Requires the CDC to issue recommendations for how to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to passengers and crew onboard cruise ships.
  • Establishes an interagency “Working Group” that will develop recommendations to facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States. The recommendations will facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States no later than July 4, 2021.
  • No later than July 4, 2021, the CDC must revoke the order entitled “Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew.”
  • Ensures that HHS and the CDC retain all appropriate authorities to make and enforce regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases on any individual cruise ship.

On April 15, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, pressed the agency to hold the ban in place. Blumenthal and Matsui sent a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urging her to keep the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order in place, and to immediately halt cruises if outbreaks occur on board.

“Given the potential for a large, virus spreading event on a cruise ship, the CDC appropriately issued its No-Sail Order to suspend cruise ship operations,” the lawmakers wrote.

“While the United States makes progress toward our shared goal of beating this pandemic, COVID-19 remains a grave public health risk that requires ongoing vigilance,” the letter continued. “Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress.”