Yesterday, April 2, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the next phase of technical guidance under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) requiring cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate, implement routine testing of crew, and develop plans incorporating vaccination strategies to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 by crew and passengers.
This phase, the second of the CSO issued in October 2020, provides technical instructions on:
- Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.
- Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status.
- Updating the color-coding system used to classify ships’ status regarding COVID-19.
- Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols, and daily reporting.
- Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include healthcare capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed.
- Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel.
The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.
While the CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them, it is not requiring vaccines in their guidelines released yesterday. Though that does not inhibit the cruise industry itself from requiring passengers be vaccinated if they so choose.
While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.