CDC Announces Voluntary COVID Rules for Cruises

Carolyn Crist

February 11, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The CDC released new guidelines on Wednesday for a voluntary COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships, which includes different levels based on the vaccination status of passengers and crew.

The levels change how long passengers are recommended to quarantine after coronavirus exposure and masking requirements.

The CDC's conditional sailing order for cruise ships expired on Jan. 15. The new program maintains many of the guidelines from the sailing order, according to USA Today .

In updated guidance for travelers, the CDC still says it's best to "avoid" cruise travel and encourages people to be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 before boarding a cruise ship.

Under the voluntary program, there are three vaccination status levels:

  • "Not highly vaccinated" ships, with less than 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated

  • "Highly vaccinated" ships, with at least 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated but less than 95% with up-to-date vaccines, including boosters

  • "Vaccination standard of excellence" ships, with 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated and boosted

The new program still requires passengers to have a COVID-19 test before embarking. Cruise lines that take part must follow all the new recommendations and notify the CDC of the vaccination status classification for each ship.

Ships in the program are then assigned a color on the CDC's Cruise Ship Color Status page, which shows the number of COVID-19 cases on board. Ships that opt out will receive a "gray" color status.

Ships with a green status don't have any reported COVID-19 cases. Those with a yellow status have cases but are below the CDC's threshold for investigation, which is .3% of total passengers and crew. Ships with an orange status are investigated.

If a ship reaches red status -- the highest level of COVID-19 spread that indicates ongoing transmission -- all passengers may be tested during or after the cruise, the CDC says. In addition, masks may be required in indoor settings and crowded outdoor areas.

Quarantine and testing rules also vary by vaccination status. Passengers on ships with the "vaccination standard of excellence" status must do a 5-day quarantine after COVID-19 exposure and wear a mask for 5 more days. In the other two status categories, passengers are required to quarantine for at least 10 days.

Travelers who have COVID-19 symptoms must isolate right away and take a COVID-19 test, regardless of vaccination status, the CDC says.

Cruise lines have until Feb. 18 to opt into the program. As of Friday morning, 20 cruise ships had agreed to join the program, according to the CDC's Cruise Ship Status Dashboard.

Sources

CDC: "Technical Instructions for CDC's COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters," "Cruise Ship Travel During COVID-19, updated Feb. 9, 2022," "Cruise Ship Color Status," "Cruise Ship Status Dashboard."

USA Today: "Boost and cruise: CDC pushes for COVID boosters in new optional program for cruise lines."

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