CDC: Cruise Ships Could Begin Sailing by Mid-July

cruise ship.

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Key Takeaways

  • Cruise ships may begin sailing again by mid-July, the CDC states in a new letter.
  • A high vaccination rate is required for passengers and crew members in order to forego COVID-19 testing.
  • The CDC still considers cruise ship travel a high-risk activity and advises against it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new COVID-19 guidelines for cruise ships, saying they could start sailing again by mid-July under strict regulations.

The CDC said in a recent letter to the cruise industry that it will allow cruise companies to skip testing passengers and staff if they can vow that 98% of the crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Cruise operators are currently required to conduct simulated voyages to test health and safety protocols. In the letter, the CDC says it will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within 5 days, a review previously expected to take 30 days.

On March 14, 2020, the CDC issued a no sail order “due to the risk cruise ship travel introducing, transmitting, or spreading COVID-19," and ships have been docked since. At the time, the no sail order was set to expire in 30 days. The CDC renewed it in April, July, and September 2020. In October, the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, detailing how cruise ships could set sail again and updated the framework in early April of this year.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents 95% of global ocean cruises, called for the CDC to lift its conditional sailing order. "We share the priority of the Biden Administration to control the virus—and commend the significant advancements made in the U.S. that are a model for others,” the association said in a statement in early April. But the CLIA calls the instructions in the conditional sailing order “disappointing,” noting that they are “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable, and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID that is the basis for every other U.S. sector of our society."

The CLIA has not issued a new statement after the CDC’s letter and did not respond to Verywell's request for comment.

Cruises and COVID-19 Cases

At the beginning of the pandemic, cruise ships were linked to several COVID-19 outbreaks. In February 2020, the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan due to a COVID-19 outbreak onboard. By February 23, 2020, there were 691 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the ship.

In March, passengers on the MS Artania quarantined on the ship in Australia after several people onboard tested positive for COVID-19.

The CDC currently warns against taking a cruise, calling the risk of acquiring COVID-19 “very high.”

Experts Applaud Strict Regulations

Doctors agree that strict regulations are important. “Given the close quarters and frequent indoor interaction, cruises seem to carry a higher risk for transmission than most land venues,” Lewis Nelson, MD, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Verywell.

Still, Nelson says, “the vaccine is highly effective and, at immunization rates required by the CDC, would certainly reach herd immunity levels, at which point person to person transmission falls to near zero.” This would make cruises “safe, though not risk-free” since the vaccines are not perfect and COVID-19 strains are “still a risk,” he says.

Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Verywell the regulations could be even more stringent. “I don’t get the 98% of crew and 95% of passengers,” he says. “Why not just do 100% of crew and 100% of passengers? That seems to be, by far, the safest thing to do.”

But Russo says that these recommendations are “much safer” than they were in the past for preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Nelson says it’s important for people to make their own decisions about safety when it comes to considering a cruise. “Since everyone’s risk tolerance varies, individual informed decision-making is needed and this should be informed by credible risk data,” he says.

What This Means For You

Cruise ships may begin sailing again as early as July. However, the CDC still considers going on a cruise a high-risk activity. Your risk may be lower if you're fully vaccinated, but not zero.

How to Stay Safe on a Cruise

While the CDC urges travelers to reschedule plans to take a cruise “for a future date,” the agency also provides detailed advice on how to minimize risk if you decide to take a cruise anyway, broken down by what to do before you travel, during your trip, and afterward.

Before you travel:

  • Get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if a vaccine is available to you.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 one to three days before your departure, even if you are fully vaccinated. If you test positive, isolate and do not travel.

While you travel:

  • Try to stay at least six feet from anyone who is not traveling with you. 
  • Wear a mask in shared spaces.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

After you travel:

If you are fully vaccinated: 

  • Get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after your trip. If your test is positive isolate yourself.
  • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after travel.

If you are not fully vaccinated:

  • Get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after your trip. If your test is positive isolate yourself.
  • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after travel.
  • Stay home and self-quarantine for seven days after your cruise, even if you test negative.
  • If you do not get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after cruise travel.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Framework for conditional sailing and initial phase COVID-19 testing requirements for protection of crew.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Technical instructions for mitigation of COVID-19 among cruise ship crew.

  3. Cruise Lines International Association. Cruise Lines International Association issues statement reiterating its call for the lifting of the CDC’s conditional sailing order.

  4. Nakazawa E, Ino H, Akabayashi A. Chronology of COVID-19 cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and ethical considerations: a report from JapanDisaster Med Public Health Prep. 2020;14(4):506-513. doi:10.1017/dmp.2020.50

  5. Codreanu TA, Ngeh S, Trewin A, Armstrong PK. Successful control of an onboard COVID-19 outbreak using the cruise ship as a quarantine facility, Western Australia, Australia. Emerg Infect Dis. 2021 May;27(5):1279-1287. doi:10.3201/eid2705.204142

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 and cruise ship travel.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.