The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel health notice on December 30 in response to an increase in cases of COVID-19 on board cruise ships.
The notice updates the health level from 3 to 4, the highest level, and calls for travelers to avoid cruises, regardless of their vaccination status. CDC says even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants, including the Omicron variant that is currently driving an increase in cases. According to the notice, “the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose”.
For those who do decide to travel, CDC says they should be fully vaccinated before travel and get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose where eligible.
In addition, people who go on a cruise should get tested 1–3 days before their trip and 3–5 days after their trip, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms. Along with testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for a full five days after cruise travel.
CDC is currently investigating or observing more than 80 cruise ships with reported COVID-19 outbreaks on board. Most of these ships belong to Carnival (including its Holland America and Princess Cruises brands), Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement following CDC’s announcement: “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,” the CLIA statement said. “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 noted that despite its view of the latest travel health notice, it remains committed to working collaboratively with CDC in the interest of public health and safety.