The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) elevated its travel warning for cruise ships from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level, on Thursday.
The latest update advises people to avoid traveling by cruise ship regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status and comes on the heels of a recent uptick in positive coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant continues to spread worldwide.
The CDC’s latest guidance warns that the virus spreads quickly and easily between people sharing close quarters such as some environments onboard a cruise ship. The agency encourages travelers who do decide to board a cruise to get fully vaccinated ahead of their trip and to get a booster dose if eligible. Passengers who are not fully vaccinated are advised to self-quarantine for at least five days after travel.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) expressed disappointment with the CDC’s update, calling it “perplexing” but confirming that it will continue to work with the agency to ensure passenger safety.
“The decision by the CDC to raise the travel level for cruise is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore. No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus. Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land,” CLIA said in an emailed statement.
“While we are disappointed and disagree with the decision to single out the cruise industry—an industry that continues to go above and beyond compared to other sectors—CLIA and our ocean-going cruise line members remain committed to working collaboratively with the CDC in the interest of public health and safety.”
The organization reiterated that the cruise industry is the only in the U.S. travel and tourism sector that is requiring both vaccinations and testing for crew and guests and points out that the industry’s COVID-19 protocols are unique in their approach to effectively monitor, detect and respond to potential cases.
“Protocols encompass the entirety of the cruise experience, incorporating testing, vaccination, screening, sanitation, mask-wearing and other science-backed measures,” said CLIA. “Many of our members have announced additional measures in response to the Omicron variant, including strengthening testing, masking and other requirements, as well as encouraging booster vaccine doses for those eligible.”
“The latest data show that, even with higher rates of testing, the cruise industry continues to achieve significantly lower rates of occurrence of COVID-19—33 percent lower than onshore,” CLIA added. “According to the CDC’s color-coding system, a cruise ship may be determined to be “yellow”—and, therefore, subject to CDC observation—if a threshold of 0.10 percent or more passengers (i.e., 7 out of 6,500) have tested positive in the last seven days, or if even just one crewmember tests positive.”