The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended into January restrictions on the cruise ship industry that were set to expire next week, citing concerns over the highly contagious delta variant and breakthrough cases among vaccinated travelers.
The CDC has allowed cruise ships to operate with conditions since October 2020, requiring masks onboard and vaccinations or testing of passengers and crew, among other safety precautions. Though the agency planned to lift the order by Nov. 1, Monday’s extension will become a voluntary measure for cruise operators on Jan. 15.
“The procedures put in place to resume passenger operations have successfully averted overwhelming onboard medical facilities and burdening shoreside hospital resources,” the CDC said in a statement Monday. “However, CDC decided to temporarily extend the Order due to the continued spread of the Delta variant.”
All foreign-flagged cruise ships that carry at least 250 passengers must abide by the order and provide the CDC access to their vessels and passenger health records upon request to ensure compliance. Cruise lines that fail to secure a Covid-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate from the CDC will be barred from operating in U.S. waters.
To secure a certificate, cruise operators are required to train their crews on Covid prevention tactics and implement their own testing and quarantine standards. They must also “provide a hospital level of care” by stocking their ships with ventilators, masks and other protective equipment for Covid patients “without the immediate need to rely on shoreside hospitalization,” according to the order.
The CDC’s conditional cruise order also requires cruise operators to test passengers and personnel for Covid before embarking, ban any suspected Covid patients from boarding and isolate those infected away from other travelers and staff. Cruise ships must also allow for proper social distancing during dining and entertainment and comply with all federal hygiene standards for masking and sanitation.