According to information supplied by the CDC, 17 cruise ships could have possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases based on data from the past week. That’s roughly 27% of the 62 ships reporting data to the health agency.
Each day cruise lines operating or planning to operate in the U.S. report health data to the CDC. The agency then updates a listing of all cruise ships based on a color-coded scale of green, orange, yellow, and red, depending on health status.
The most recent data is as of July 15, with the information submitted by cruise lines as of July 14. According to the agency’s website, “ship color status is determined using surveillance data from the previous 7 days… and CDC investigation findings.”
The rules surrounding each color status can be complex, depending on the current sailing status of the ship (sailing with passengers, crew only, etc.). However, anything other than green means there are possible cases of the virus, or a ship has not submitted daily reports to the health agency in a timely manner.
Green Ship Criteria
- No reports of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness for seven days and on-time daily reports to the CDC.
Orange Ship Criteria
- COVID-19 has been reported in the past seven days, and the ship is below CDC’s investigation threshold.
- Investigation threshold: Less than 0.10% of passengers and zero crew cases reported for passenger voyages. Cases in less than 1.5% of passengers or 1.0% of crew for simulated voyages. Cases in less than 1.0% of crew if ship has crew only.
Yellow Ship Criteria
- Ship is at or above CDC’s investigation threshold for cases.
- Investigation threshold: Cases reported in 0.10% or more of passengers or one or more crew members on passenger voyages. Cases of 1.5% or more of passengers or 1.0% or more of crew for simulated voyages. Cases in more than 1.0% of crew if ship has crew only.
- Or, ship did not submit one or more daily reports on-time to the CDC during the past week.
Red Ship Criteria
- “Sustained transmission” of COVID illness or potential for COVID-19 cases to overwhelm on board medical center resources.
- The ship misses one or more daily reports to the CDC during the past week.
Of the four ships back sailing with passengers from the United States (Carnival Horizon, Carnival Vista, Celebrity Edge, and Freedom of the Seas), three of those now have “orange” or “yellow” status. Fourteen other ships without “green” status have crew onboard but not passengers. The number of virus cases was not supplied by the CDC.
Note: It’s possible ships with “yellow” status failed to submit daily reports to the CDC on time during the past week.
You can see the complete list showing the current status of each ship at the CDC’s website. Here are the ships with status other than “green”:
- Carnival Freedom | Yellow
- Carnival Horizon | Yellow
- Carnival Mardi Gras | Orange
- Nieuw Amsterdam | Orange
- Coral Princess | Orange
- Grand Princess | Orange
- Majestic Princess | Orange
- Norwegian Gem | Orange
- Oceania Insignia | Orange
- Celebrity Edge | Orange
- Allure of the Seas | Orange
- Freedom of the Seas | Yellow
- Mariner of the Seas | Orange
- Oasis of the Seas | Orange
- Odyssey of the Seas | Orange
- Serenade of the Seas | Orange
- Silver Muse | Orange
Cases Likely to Be Found on Ships Due to Protocols
As we’ve mentioned before, the cruise industry faces tough hurdles regarding cases on their ships. There’s little argument that cruise ships can see the virus spread if there is no mitigation in place. As the CDC says on its website, “cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
That’s why the lines and the health agency have taken drastic steps to help minimize the number of cases. This includes requiring vaccinations for most passengers, as well as frequent testing of crew, unvaccinated passengers, and any suspected cases on the ship.
The desire to hunt down and isolate any cases appears to be working to keep case counts in check. So far the outbreaks of cases on ships have been small. While we don’t have numbers for each of the 17 ships with “non-green” status, most reports thus far have been limited to just a handful of positive tests compared to the dozens or hundreds of cases that were tied to some ships at the start of the pandemic.
Even so, cruise lines face a unique situation. In their desire to limit any spread with testing and contact tracing, the lines also inevitably find more cases.
Given the close proximity of passengers and crew on a cruise ship and their international nature, we think the protocols put in place by the cruise lines and CDC are extremely important. Even so, the rules — which aren’t in place for hotels, casinos, or other resorts — will continue to link ships and the virus.
Can Cruises Sail Safely?
Going forward, the big question is if cruises return to sailing safely. The CDC says that “cruising is not a zero-risk activity.” They also have a travel warning in place, recommending that unvaccinated passengers not sail.
That said, the health agency does believe cruises can return and keep passengers safe.
“Due to this thorough and structured process, which allowed ships to develop and assess onboard and shoreside protocols, including comprehensive plans for COVID-19 testing, CDC is confident that cruising can resume safely under the CSO [Conditional Sailing Order],” the agency says on its website.
Those protocols are rigorous, and not seen in other areas of travel. For instance, a ship reaches “yellow” status from the CDC with only one crew member — or a single passenger out of 1,000 — testing positive if sailing with passengers.
Going forward, it’s obvious that vaccines are the most important tool for cruises to return and keep passengers healthy. Data continues to show that while not perfect, the shots mean fewer cases that are much more manageable and with better outcomes if a vaccinated person does fall ill.
That’s one reason cruise lines have pushed for sailing highly-vaccinated trips and require crew members to have the shot. In fact, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has even filed suit against Florida’s law that says businesses can’t require proof of the shot from customers. The company wants to sail from the state with 100% of passengers vaccinated.
Even so, with the testing regime, more transmissible variants, and crew members having at least some cases even before sailing with passengers, it’s clear that cases will continue to pop up on ships. However, the protocols put in place seem to be limiting spread — so far — whenever cases are found.