On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally provided more technical detail needed by cruise lines who desire to restart cruise operations from U.S. ports. It's a positive step, but not the final step—as guidance on simulated/test voyages is yet to come from the agency.
The CDC called its release of information "the next phase of technical guidance" under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), issued in late October 2020. That order requires cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate, implement routine testing of crew, and develop plans incorporating vaccination strategies to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 by crew and passengers.
This second phase of the CSO issued last October, provides technical instructions on:
- Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.
- Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status
- Updating the color-coding system used to classify ships’ status with respect to COVID-19
- Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols and daily reporting
- Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include healthcare capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed
- Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel
Still To Come
What's yet needed? The CDC said its "next phase of the CSO" will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.
The CDC press release emphasized: "The CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising when it is safe to do so, following the phased approach outlined in the CSO."
One highlight of the guidance given on Friday? It involves vaccinations. The CDC release said:
- "COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations.
- "As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so.
- "CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them."
That said, the CDC language fell short of specifying that all passengers and crew must be vaccinated.
The CDC announcement continued: "Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern."
The CDC also said it will continue to update its guidance and recommendations to specify basic safety standards and public health interventions based on the best scientific evidence available.