The CDC Says Cruises Could Begin Again As Soon As July

by Christina Marfice
Daniel Piraino/EyeEm/Getty

The CDC sent a letter to cruise companies updating its guidance, in hopes cruises can start sailing with passengers again this summer

Back in March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, one of the first major COVID-19 outbreaks was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship. While the ship was quarantined in Japan, nearly 800 passengers and crew tested positive for the disease. It showed how easily COVID can spread in tight, cramped quarters, like a cruise ship. In response, the CDC halted all cruises from the U.S. that month, and they still haven’t resumed sailing.

Now, in a letter to cruise companies, the CDC is laying out new guidelines that could allow cruises to resume sailing with passengers on board by about midway through this summer.Aimee Treffiletti, head of the maritime unit for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, wrote that “cruising will never be a zero-risk activity,” but the CDC is making plans for a phased reopening of the industry with the goal “to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities.”

As long as cruises comply with the CDC’s new conditional sailing rules, they could start sailing with passengers from U.S. ports as soon as July. One of the most important rules in the conditional sailing order is that ships must be able to show that 98 percent of their staff and 95 percent of their passengers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The CDC’s rules also include guidance on ventilation systems on board ships, and requirements for all cruises that are sailing to give a COVID report to the CDC every day that they have passengers on board. Earlier this month, the CDC issued updated guidance that allows cruises to sail on simulated voyages, which is designed to give crews a chance to practice new COVID procedures before passengers are allowed on board.

The Cruise Lines International Association has been calling on the CDC to allow cruises to resume sailing in July so they can meet President Joe Biden’s goal of resuming some normalcy in the U.S. by July 4th. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said he’s hopeful that cruises will return this summer.

“I certainly care a lot about seeing the cruise sector thrive,” he said in a White House briefing earlier this month. “I know that the CDC is hopeful that a lot of these operators will be in a position to be sailing by mid-summer.”