Devil In The Details — The “What’s Next”

The CDC has released the details regarding their new COVID guidance for cruise ships. I noted in my last post they were ending their COVID Program for Cruise Ships, but that we needed to wait for the “what’s next” to understand what that actually means. They’ve now released the details and surprisingly, there don’t seem to be any hidden “gotchas” like there have been in the past. The requirements that were in place before regarding vaccination and pre-cruise testing remain, but they are now recommendations and suggestions rather than requirements.

The CDC is leaving it up to each cruise line to determine how closely they will follow their recommendations. As I noted in my last post, you can expect to see the pre-cruise testing requirements go away first, and probably within the next few weeks. The cruise lines will take a more deliberate approach to doing away with the vaccine requirements now that the CDC no longer requires it, but those too will be going away, if not by this fall/winter’s cruising season then almost certainly by the spring of 2023. If you have been waiting to book your cruise until the vaccine requirement is gone, you can finally start to plan. Janet and I believe it is still a bit too soon to book if you are unvaccinated, but I don’t think you’ll have very much longer to wait.

Perhaps the most important step the CDC is taking is to allow the cruise lines to decide on their own when to suspend operations due to COVID infection rates onboard individual ships. The cruise lines will still be required to report all incidents of COVID positive passengers and crew aboard every cruise ship they operate and for every sailing, but that’s no different than any other infectious disease that the CDC requires cruise lines to track and report. Cruise lines will probably still require COVID positive guests to isolate onboard for the required five days, and have a negative test result before being released from isolation. But that is dependent on passengers with symptoms self reporting to the medical center. I don’t see that happening very often unless someone is really sick.

As always, the CDC can issue an order to cruise lines to suspend operations for any ship, or for a line’s entire fleet, if they feel things are getting out of control. I don’t expect that to be necessary. The cruise lines have been far ahead of the CDC in their COVID mitigation and management programs from the outset of the pandemic, and I don’t see that changing under the CDC’s new, significantly more relaxed guidance.

Not everyone will welcome this news. As I noted in my last blog post, the risk of COVID exposure will increase with any relaxation in the measures cruise lines are currently taking to combat COVID on cruise ships. Doing away with pre-cruise testing, and eventually with vaccination mandates, will increase everyone’s risk of exposure on a cruise ship, so you still need to consider your personal risk tolerance. And though the risk of COVID exposure may be higher on cruises in the near term, it will be no greater for cruising than it is for any leisure activity involving large groups in enclosed spaces. If you are comfortable attending indoor concerts or sporting events, you will likely be comfortable with cruising.

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