CDC's COVID-19 Guidance to Become Optional for Cruise Lines — What to Know

Cruise ships have been under the CDC's Conditional Sail Order since October 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidance for cruise ships will become optional this weekend, in spite of a recent rise in onboard cases, agency director Dr. Rochelle Walensky confirmed this week.

Cruise ships will be able to set their own rules on board after the CDC's Conditional Sail Order expires on Saturday. The order, which was extended in October 2021, was first implemented after the agency lifted its No Sail Order in October 2020.

"I think the conditional sail order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry," Walensky told Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski during a senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

But Walensky also noted the CDC has seen "a thirtyfold increase in cases on ships during this season because of omicron" over the last two weeks.

She said the CDC "will continue to do the oversight and watch and do all the technical assistance and support in every single way.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises in the caribbean
Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises

"We anticipate that this order will not be renewed and that the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries," she added. "What I can't predict is what the summer will bring."

Currently, the order requires all cruise ships in the United States to complete simulated test cruises to sail unless they commit to having 98% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated. Many cruise lines have varying vaccine and mask policies in place, which they have continued to update amid the different waves of the pandemic.

But several cruise companies have been forced to cancel sailings in recent weeks due to the omicron variant, including Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. For its part, the CDC currently advises against boarding a cruise ship, regardless of a guest's vaccination status.

The CDC uses a color-coded system to classify cruise ships: green is safe to go, and the scale goes up through orange, yellow, and finally to red which signifies the need to relocate onboard crew to single-occupancy cabins, cancel face-to-face meetings, and close public spaces like gyms. The final coding color is gray — where the agency "has not reviewed or confirmed the cruise ship's health and safety protocols."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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