CDC Reassesses Testing For Cruise Ships, Are Any Changes Coming?

It has been a week since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed the requirement for international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the United States, but no progress has yet been made on dropping a similar restriction for cruise passengers.

How is cruise travel different and what options may be available to facilitate testing requirements for cruise passengers? The CDC said the situation is being reassessed and changes may soon occur.

Cruise travel is not air travel

In a statement provided to Cruise Hive, the CDC discussed the dramatic differences between cruise travel and air travel, as well as other forms of leisure travel and popular destinations.

“Unlike airplanes and other travel environments, cruise ships are congregated residential environments with a high risk of secondary transmission of COVID-19 among passengers and crew,” read the statement. “Travel on a cruise ship involves thousands of people living for several days (or months for the crew) in the same setting, eating, sleeping and participating in activities together in the same place.”

It is certainly true. Travelers are in fact present on a cruise ship for several days (or months, in the case of extraordinary world cruises), interacting with each other more frequently and for longer periods of time than in a more limited setting such as airlines, hotels, resorts, theme parks, sporting events, music concerts, etc. .

Photo credit: Robert Michaud / Shutterstock

Yet the statement fails to acknowledge that cruise ships are also more easily controlled environments, able to quickly isolate and track passengers if symptoms of illness appear, and able to respond quickly with enhanced cleaning protocols, activity changes and other responses as needed.

This is not the case with air travel or other settings, where travelers may be in contact for only a few highly contagious hours, but then move on to distant destinations or much broader activities, where diseases may spread to much larger communities.

The CDC’s own guidelines state that exposure to COVID-19 droplets for only a few minutes can lead to infection. In this case, any event or activity where guests may be in close proximity for more than a few minutes could be dangerous, not just “gathered residential environments.”

Responding to possible outbreaks a reason to continue testing

The CDC points out that a cruise ship’s medical facilities may be unable to cope with an extreme situation.

“Outbreaks on cruise ships can potentially overwhelm medical and public health resources on board, and it can make it difficult for seriously ill passengers to be transported to a medical facility ashore,” the statement continued.

Because of this, “Pre-trip cruise testing helps identify passengers who have COVID-19 and prevents those passengers from boarding and infecting others.”

Cruising trials
Cruising tests (Photo credit: Matt Bannister / Shutterstock)

It is true that medical facilities on cruise ships are smaller and more limited than hospitals and clinics on land, especially for very serious medical emergencies.

It should be noted, however, that despite the requirement for most, if not all, passengers to be fully vaccinated and for everyone to test negative before setting sail, these measures do not prevent epidemics on board cruise ships.

As of this writing, of the 84 cruise ships monitored by the CDC, 77 of these ships have “orange” statusindicating a COVID-19 outbreak threshold that warrants CDC investigation.

Cases can and do happen on cruise ships, despite the strict measures in place, and there is no way to completely “identify passengers who have COVID-19 and prevent those passengers from boarding and infecting others.”

Travel test
Photo credit: Michele Ursi / Shutterstock

Yet since the gradual restart of cruise travel in July 2021, there have been no critical emergencies where a ship has been overwhelmed with the need to evacuate passengers due to a crippling outbreak of COVID- 19.

Even where higher numbers of cases have been reported on ships, the cruise line’s emergency measures, including contact tracing, isolation measures and quarantine, have proven effective, and the most passengers who test positive have either been asymptomatic or experienced only very mild symptoms of discomfort.

Possible upcoming changes

Fortunately, the CDC has also indicated that it is evaluating the situation, which could lead to some welcome changes for cruise passengers.

“The CDC continues to assess the latest scientific data and the status of the pandemic and is currently reassessing the testing requirements for cruise ships,” concludes the statement. “CDC remains committed to working with the cruise industry to minimize the spread of COVID-19, providing a safer and healthier travel environment for passengers and crew.”

Cruise ships in Miami, Florida
Photo credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) supports the relaxation of the air travel test requirement, which makes it easier for travelers to reach US cruise homeports, and hopes that a similar relaxation could also be intended for cruise travel.

Also Read: Cruise Lines Respond to CDC Suppression Test Requirement for International Flights

“As the CDC monitors the improving health landscape and works with airlines to support a smooth transition with the lifting of the pre-arrival testing requirement, we believe that a review of the pre-arrival testing requirements boarding for cruise passengers is also appropriate”, a CLIA statement reads.

Of all the passenger cruise ports in the world, the three busiest are all in the United States – Port of Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades. The ports of Galveston and New York are also among the top 20 busiest cruise ports in the world.

The Hopeful Travelers

Cruise lines also hope that testing requirements can soon be reassessed. Although there is no universal agreement, many passengers are optimistic about the easing of restrictions.

One possible option is to maintain testing requirements for unvaccinated passengers or those who are not “up to date” on COVID-19 vaccines with the appropriate booster shots.

Vaccinated passengers might then be able to forego pre-cruise testing, especially since approved vaccines have been shown to be effective in minimizing symptoms and severity of illness, thus avoiding more serious complications that would be difficult to prevent. manage on board a cruise ship.

No cruise line has yet indicated that this type of option could be implemented, but it could be a reasonable way to start easing testing requirements.

Cruise Hive will continue to update you on cruise testing protocols and recommends that all booked passengers stay in close contact with their cruise line or travel agency regarding guidelines for their individual sailings as requirements may change. short term.

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