The CDC might require cruisers to wear masks even when sunning by the pool

May 5, 2021

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Planning to be on one of the first cruise ships to resume departures out of a U.S. port? You might have to wear a mask even when you’re lounging outside around the pool.

A lengthy operations manual that lists rules and requirements for initial cruises out of U.S. ports published Wednesday on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website suggests passengers will be required to wear masks at almost all times when on cruise ships, including while on the pool deck.

The manual specifically says that cruise lines operating out of U.S. ports will be required to “ensure bathers wear masks while congregating outside of recreational water facilities (RWFs) and while seated on the pool deck area.”

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Masks will not be required when swimming in a shipboard pool, the manual says. It notes that masks likely will not work correctly if they get wet. But bathers must maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet while in a pool with anyone who is not a traveling companion, the manual says.

The manual, which is titled COVID-19 Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, lays out rules that cruise lines must adhere to when operating initial simulated “test cruises” in advance of returning to service as well as subsequent “real cruises” with paying passengers.

The CDC calls the subsequent cruises with paying passengers “restricted voyages” as they will be voyages operating under restrictions imposed by the CDC, as authorized in an October “conditional sailing order” issued by the agency.

“This document is issued under CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and its requirements must be observed in the same manner as other technical instructions issued under the CSO,” the CDC says in the manual.

The manual also requires that cruise lines:

  • Reduce the “bather load” in pools and hot tubs to allow for social distancing. When social distancing of at least 6 feet between bathers is not possible, such as in hot tubs, the venue should be used by just one family or group of traveling companions at a time.
  • Place lounge chairs, sunbeds and other seating items around pools and hot tubs at least 6 feet apart from each other to allow for social distancing. A caveat: These items can be grouped together to allow for families and traveling companions to sit closer together.
  • Impose social distancing of at least 6 feet between passengers in lines for waterslides and other watery features.

In general, social distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals who are not part of the same traveling group will be required in all areas of cruise ships.

Additionally, the manual says passengers should be prohibited from touring in ports on their own, and it calls for a long list of restrictions on how closely passengers can sit next to each other in onboard restaurants, entertainment venues and other onboard places.

Whether or not the CDC actually will require cruise lines to impose such rules when cruising resumes out of U.S. ports later this year is unclear.

In a statement announcing new “technical instructions” for test cruises issued on Wednesday, the CDC said it would continue to update its guidance and requirements for cruise ships “based on the best scientific evidence available.” That leaves open the possibility that the requirements laid out in the operations manual on Wednesday will be amended before cruising resumes.

The press release announcing the technical instructions did not mention the operations manual. The two documents are posted on separate pages on the CDC website.

A spokesperson for the CDC did not respond to questions about the new technical instructions and operations manual from TPG.

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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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