As was rumored based on reports, the CDC has announced it will extend the current “No Sail Order” (NSO) for cruise ships until October 31, 2020. In a statement, the health organization said:
On September 30, 2020, CDC extended the No Sail Order and Suspension of Further Embarkation; Third Modification and Extension of No Sail Order and Other Measures Related to Operations that was issued on July 16, 2020. The Order is effective upon signature and will be published in the Federal Register soon.
This Order is in effect until one of the following occurs:
- The expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency,
- The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations, or
- October 31, 2020.
When originally invoking the NSO back in March, the Centers for Disease Control put the order in place for just 30 days. Since then, two extensions have both been for much longer periods.
The first extension was in place for 100 days. The second extension was in force 76 days (from July 16 until September 30).
The fact that this third extension is only 30 days seems to signal it might be the last “No Sail Order” unless something drastic happens concerning the health crisis.
In fact, a report from Axios said that CDC Director Robert Redfield pushed for no sailing until February 2021, but was overruled by the Trump Administration, which called for the 30-day extension.
That’s not a guarantee that cruises will again sail starting in November, but a cruise restart seems more possible to us than at any other time since the pandemic began.
Already many venues like movie theaters, restaurants, and bars are opening up in some parts of the nation as life seems to get back to normal. In addition, cruise lines have started back again in Europe, providing valuable insight in how to sail safely given the pandemic.
In total, the CDC says there were a total of 3,689 confirmed cases of “COVID-19 or COVID-like illness” on cruise ships, with 41 people dying as a result. They also say that there were outbreaks on 124 different ships, with four ships still having ongoing outbreaks despite not sailing for months.
CDC’s Concerns About Returning to Cruising
Interestingly, we noticed the tone in the new CDC extension is different than in past orders. We pointed out the harsh language and rebuke of the cruise industry in the last extension.
In this case, the tone seems less sharp regarding cruise line actions, but very concerned about the impacts of sailing again too early.
Under one section titled “Dangers of Prematurely Resuming Passenger Operations on Cruise Ships” the order highlights examples of outbreaks on ships that have resumed sailing in the past couple of months. These ships had put in new steps to help stop the spread of the virus onboard, including many popular ideas like reduced capacity and more tightly-controlled shore excursions.
The CDC order also highlighted two specific cases on one ship where COVID cases among the crew slipped by undetected despite the crewmembers testing negative before getting on the ship. There is worry this could happen to passengers on the ship as well.
And in regards to the recent announcements about new policies and procedures from major cruise lines — including Royal Caribbean’s and Norwegian joint “Healthy Sail Panel” — the CDC said that “it is too early to assess whether these initiatives will produce a viable set of policies and practices that will mitigate the transmission and spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships while minimizing the potential burden and need for public health response activities.”
Perhaps most bluntly, the CDC order does say that “the Director of the CDC continues to find that cruise ship travel exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19.”
Will Cruises Return in November?
So with this order expiring at the end of October, does that mean cruising is back in November? Truth is that until the first ship actually leaves port with passengers onboard, it’s not a sure thing.
As mentioned, there is something hopeful about this extension only being 30 days instead of a much longer period like the previous extensions. As well, the October 31 end-date corresponds with the current voluntary restriction put in place by the cruise lines themselves.
Through their trade organization, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), major players like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian had already canceled cruises until at least the start of November.
Add to that the cruise lines have laid out drastic measures to sail again safely in response to COVID. This includes requiring testing before boarding, facemasks on the ship when distancing isn’t possible, improved air filtration, increased sanitation and dozens of other steps to keep passengers healthy.
It’s also important to note that cruises have returned to sailing in limited capacity in Europe, and the public appetite for “getting back to normal” in the United States seems to be growing, despite tens of thousands of new cases daily and more than 750 daily deaths on average.
After more than six months, it appears that COVID is something many feel we will just have to live with going forward.
For these reasons, in our opinion a return to limited sailing in November seems likely, but certainly not a sure thing. Either way, we should know more toward the end of October as the “No Sail Order” moves closer to expiration.