With the cruise industry currently dealing with increased COVID cases due to the new Omicron variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now upgraded its cruise travel advice to level 4.
CDC Advises Not to take a Cruise Regardless of Vaccination Status
With Omicron starting to impact the cruise industry and increased cases onboard select cruise ships, the CDC has now updated its cruise travel advisory from level 3 to level 4.
The notice was updated on December 30, 2021, and it now reads, “The COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level has been updated from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level. This reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant.”
It goes on to advise, “Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status,” and says, “Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.”
The updated advisory information is slightly different from the previous level 3, which only recommended those who are not fully vaccinated not to cruise.
The update comes as the CDC is monitoring an increased number of vessels that have COVID cases on board and are currently in yellow or orange status, meaning an investigation has started, or the ship is being monitored. However, the majority of ships only have a limited number of positive cases compared to the overall number of passengers sailing, and protocols are in place to make sure any so called “outbreak” is under control.
The majority of cruise passengers have still been able to enjoy their cruise vacation as cruise ships have also only been denied at a small number of cruise ports. Puerto Rico recently increased its testing requirements forcing cruise lines to cancel stops to that Caribbean island. However, Mexico reiterated that none of its ports will deny cruise ships that have positive cases and will support the cruise industry, an important tourism sector for the country.
Other ports have also denied ships on a case-by-case basis and depending on the COVID situation at each destination. With the Omicron variant spreading quickly, cruise destinations are becoming concerned and not allowing some cruise ships to dock despite only having a small number of positive cases onboard.
In response to the CDC advising to avoid all cruise travel, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released a statement:
“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 small 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.”
“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.”
Cruise lines continue to offer great cruise vacations and since late June 2021, over 100 cruise ships have returned to U.S. waters carrying almost a million people. The cruise industry has administered nearly 10 million COVID-19 tests per week, which is 21 times the rate of testing in the U.S.