CDC eases mask-wearing rules on cruises — but not for everybody

May 12, 2021

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is easing up on its stringent mask-wearing rules for cruisers. But just by a little bit.

In a small tweak to a lengthy operations manual for cruise lines that it unveiled last week, the agency on Wednesday said cruisers could remove their masks when sunning in lounge chairs around outdoor pools, provided they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The operations manual initially said that cruisers would be required to wear masks at all times when lounging around pools.

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The CDC on Wednesday also tweaked the operations manual to say passengers could remove masks for an extended time when dining and drinking on cruise ships — but only in outdoor settings and only in situations without crowds.

The original version of the operations manual posted last week said passengers would have to mostly keep their masks on during meals everywhere on cruise ships, even in outdoor settings.

The manual suggested that passengers only pull down their masks briefly during meals when consuming something.

The severity of the mask-wearing rules led to widespread criticism of the CDC by cruise industry executives and cruise fans.

“Preposterous” is how Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio referred to the rules on Thursday during a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“In between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask,” Del Rio noted with incredulity in his voice. “So nobody should order soup, because your mask might get sloppy.”

Del Rio and other cruise industry executives have argued in recent days that passengers sailing on ships where all or most passengers and crew have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 should not have to follow such stringent rules.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ three brands plan to restart cruises in the coming months with a rule that all passengers and crew be vaccinated for COVID-19.

In one other tweak to the operations manual for cruise lines on Wednesday, the CDC said cruise lines could allow passengers who are fully vaccinated to tour in ports on their own.

The operations manual originally said that passengers only could leave ships as part of “bubble” tours organized by cruise lines. The requirement was a blow to small merchants and tour operators in big cruise destinations such as Alaska that make their living catering to arriving cruisers.

The operations manual, which is titled COVID-19 Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, was issued last week to set guidelines for cruise lines hoping to restart operations in U.S. waters in the next few months.

The CDC currently is blocking all but the smallest cruise ships from sailing from U.S. ports due to worries about the spread of COVID-19. But it has given cruise lines a list of steps they must undertake to win approval to restart operations. The steps include adhering to the rules in the operations manual.

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Featured image of courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.


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