May 3, 2021 -- The CDC says cruise ships can resume operating in U.S. waters -- perhaps by mid-July -- if the cruise lines meet certain requirements, such as proving that 95% of a ship’s guests and 98% of the crew are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those conditions were spelled out in a letter the CDC sent to cruise industry leaders clarifying parts of the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.
"We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities," Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 response, said in the letter to cruise line leaders.
Another change outlined in the letter relaxes a previous requirement that cruise lines give a 30-day notice before conducting test cruises and apply for a certificate 60 days before offering the cruise to passengers. Now the CDC says it will review and respond to applications for simulated voyages within 5 days, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The CDC also says passengers can take a rapid-response test before starting a cruise rather than a polymerase chain-reaction test, which can take longer to process, the newspaper reported.
The CDC says cruise lines must submit port agreements as soon as possible but they can enter into agreements with multiple ports.
Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president for strategic communications for trade group Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY that the industry is encouraged by the CDC's letter.
"Our technical experts are currently reviewing the information and its implications, but we are optimistic that these clarifications show positive progression – and, importantly, a demonstrated commitment to constructive dialogue, which is key to restarting cruising as we have seen with other governments and health authorities around the world," Golin-Blaugrund said.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the CDC vaccination requirements will create a conflict with the state of Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken a stance against requiring people to prove they’ve been vaccinated.
DeSantis is expected to sign a bill that would not allow businesses, schools, or government entities to require proof of the COVID-19 vaccinations, WMAZ reported.