The CDC Will No Longer Report COVID-19 Cases on Cruises to the Public

The CDC has also released new recommendations regarding vaccinated guests on board.

Aerial view of Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship
Photo: Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidance for cruise ships this week after officially ending its pandemic-era program for ships that displayed the number of COVID-19 cases online.

The agency, which previously classified ships under a tiered vaccination system that cruise lines could opt-in to, now recommends cruise lines "consider" operating with at least 90% of passengers and 95% of crew up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines. The agency also recommends travelers be "up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines before boarding a cruise, "highly" suggests cruise ships require testing within one day of embarkation, and issued a series of other recommendations regarding everything from developing shoreside response plans to protocols for onboard isolation in the event of an outbreak.

On Monday, the CDC "retired" the part of its website that allowed the public to monitor COVID-19 cases on ships through a color-coded chart showing levels of transmission. The agency "will continue to publish guidance to help cruise ships continue to provide a safer and healthier environment," according to the CDC, but safety measures will effectively be up to each cruise line.

"[The] CDC has worked closely with the cruise industry, state, territorial, and local health authorities, and federal and seaport partners to provide a safer and healthier environment for cruise passengers and crew," the agency wrote. "Cruise ships have access to guidance and tools to manage their own COVID-19 mitigation programs."

Going forward, the agency said travelers should contact "their cruise line directly regarding outbreaks occurring on board their ship."

The CDC said the decision to eliminate the tracking program was made since each cruise line has their own screening and testing protocols and the color-coded system only works when each cruise line is unified in protocol. Cruise ships will still report COVID-19 cases to the CDC, but they will no longer be displayed.

"[The] 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," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told The Washington Post on Monday.

The new policy comes months after the CDC dropped its warning against cruise ship travel in March for the first time in two years.

This week, Virgin Voyages stopped requiring travelers to get tested before embarking on a sailing, becoming the first major cruise line to eliminate testing for cruises in the United States. Several other cruise lines have also stopped limiting capacity on cruises in the past few months as well as relaxed onboard masking policies, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line.

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