CDC’s cruise ship coronavirus rules to remain in place through mid-January following extension

Oct 26, 2021

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended and slightly tweaked its COVID-19 rules for cruise ships operating in U.S. waters during the pandemic.

Originally set to expire on Nov. 1, the agency’s year-old Conditional Sail Order (CSO) will now run through Jan. 15, unless it is modified or COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency, the CDC announced late Monday.

The CSO also tinkered with the list of ships to which the CSO applies. The agency has always excluded ships that carry fewer than 250 people from the rules. But as of Nov. 1, it also will no longer apply to U.S.-flagged ships, such as Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Pride of America, which exclusively sails in Hawaii.

Other changes that will take effect on Nov. 1 include the waiving of a stipulation that voyages can be no longer than one week. Cruise lines also will no longer have to warn passengers of the risks of COVID-19 in their cruise contracts and other pre-cruise materials, and sailings will no longer immediately have to end if cases of COVID-19 are found on board.

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Under the CSO, cruise ships departing from or sailing to the U.S. have been required either to sail with at least 95% of cruisers and crew fully vaccinated on each voyage or to conduct test cruises before they’re allowed to restart operations with paying passengers.

Tweaks have been made to the latest version of the order to remove some of the burden on cruise lines with regard to test cruises and to decrease the amount of time cruise lines can expect to wait for answers from the CDC.

Additional longstanding requirements include mask-wearing, social distancing, pre-cruise testing, more intense cleaning and sanitation, improved air filtration, beefed-up medical facilities and staff with the capability to quarantine and test potentially ill passengers, and agreements with ports on every itinerary that account for evacuation of ill cruisers and land-based medical care if necessary.

TPG’s Ashley Kosciolek undergoes a COVID-19 test before boarding a cruise ship earlier this year. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

The CSO rules are not binding for ships sailing to or from Florida, but most lines have voluntarily committed to enforcing them for Florida-based vessels anyway.

After Jan. 15, barring further extension of the CSO, the CDC plans to make the program voluntary for vessels sailing from all U.S. states.

“The changes to the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order … show that the Biden Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize the cruise industry’s successful resumption of operations,” reads a statement issued by the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry organization that represents cruise line interests. “We look forward to demonstrating the industry’s continued leadership in this final phase of the CSO, and to carrying out a smooth transition when the order comes to an end on [Jan. 15] 2022.”

In mid-March of 2020, shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, most cruise lines voluntarily stopped cruising. The CDC then issued a No-Sail Order, which prevented most ships from calling on U.S. ports. In October of 2020, the No-Sail Order was replaced with the Conditional Sail Order, and sailings began to resume from U.S. ports in June 2021 under its guidance.

For full details, check out the full, updated CSO PDF.

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Featured photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy. 

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