Cruises Set to Sail In November: Will They Be Safe?

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC’s no sail order for cruise ships is set to expire after October 31.
  • After that, cruise ships will be able to sail in the U.S. again.
  • The CDC urges caution for anyone wishing to take a cruise.

The White House has reportedly blocked an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep cruise ships from sailing until the middle of February. The CDC’s current “no sail” policy was extended but is expected to end after October 31.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, told The New York Times that the move was not motivated by politics. An anonymous source told The Times that Robert R. Redfield, MD, the director of the CDC, recommended that the no sail order be extended until February due to fears that cruise ships would become hot spots for the spread of COVID-19.

In its no sail order, the CDC cites surveillance data linking cruise ships to the spread of COVID-19. According to data collected by the CDC between March 1 through September 29, at least 3,689 cases of COVID-19 or COVID-like illness happened on cruise ships in U.S. waters. In addition, at least 41 people died. “We recognize these numbers are likely incomplete and an underestimate,” the CDC says.

The CDC also says that outbreaks on cruise ships overseas “provide current evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities—and would likely spread the infection into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the United States.”

Despite these findings, cruise lines are now preparing to set sail again, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). They have released protocols member cruise lines will be taking once sailing resumes.

But John Sellick, MD, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, isn’t convinced. “I think it’s insane,” he tells Verywell. “Cruise ships are everything we talk about being problematic. There are lots of people from all over, very close together.”

Despite the guidance and new regulations, Sellick says he anticipates outbreaks from cruises, both on ships and in ports like areas of Florida. “I don’t see this having a good outcome,” he says.

What This Means For You

While the CDC’s no sail order for cruise lines is set to expire after October 31, medical experts don’t recommend setting sail during the pandemic.

What Precautions Will Cruise Lines Take?

The CLIA says all ocean-going cruise lines—95% of global cruise ships—must have credentialed doctors and nurses on board who are required to provide health declarations detailing illnesses of passengers to port authorities before a ship can enter.

The CLIA breaks down precautions member cruise lines will take once they can resume sailing in the U.S.:

  • Testing for everyone. All passengers and crew will be tested for COVID-19 before the ship sets sail.
  • Masks required. All passengers and crew members must abide by mandatory mask-wearing on the ship and during excursions whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Social distancing. People will be spaced out in terminals, on ships, on private islands, and during shore excursions.
  •  Enhanced ventilation. Details are not available at this time, but the CLIA says that there will be “air management and ventilation strategies” to increase fresh air onboard. When it’s “feasible,” cruise lines will use “enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk,” the CLIA says.
  • Medical response plans. Ships will have risk-based response plans tailored for each ship to manage medical needs, dedicated cabin capacity allocated for isolation and other operational measures, and advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities, and transportation.
  • Shore excursions that follow protocol: Ships will only allow shore excursions according to the cruise operators’ prescribed protocols, with “strict adherence” required of all passengers. Those who do not comply will be denied re-boarding. 

The CLIA also shared that additional measures are being finalized and will be announced “in the coming weeks.”  Those include:

  • Booking procedures and risk disclosures
  • Staggered guest arrivals and departures
  • Health screening including temperature checks for anyone boarding
  • Onboard testing capability
  • Augmentation of medical facilities and staff
  • Capacity management/social distancing
  • Dining restrictions
  • Use of contactless technology
  • Contact tracing

The CLIA did not yet detail regulations for the use of onboard gyms, pools, and buffet dining. A spokesperson for CLIA did not respond to Verywell’s request for comment.

Additional Precautions From the CDC

The CDC has released lengthy guidance for cruise ship operators to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC does not say that it is safe to sail, but claims that cleaning and disinfection protocols “may reduce transmission of COVID-19 on ships.”

For people who plan to take a cruise, the CDC offers the following safety advice:

  • Avoid sharing personal items with other people, including blankets, laptops, tablets and other hand-held devices, and video games.
  • Wear a face mask or cloth face covering when outside of individual cabins.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others when working or moving through the ship. And, when a six-foot distance can’t be maintained in narrow corridors, allow people to pass completely before entering.
  • Avoid physical contact with other people, including shaking hands, giving hugs, and cheek kissing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer that contains greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol if soap and water aren’t available.

It’s unclear if the no sail order will be extended again if COVID-19 cases increase in the U.S.

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.

4 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. Cruise ship no sail order extended through October 31, 2020.

  2. Kaplan S. White House blocked C.D.C. order to keep cruise ships docked. New York Times.

  3. Cruise Lines International Association. Cruise industry COVID-19 facts and resources.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim guidance for ships on managing suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

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.