CDC Recommends Higher-Risk Groups Avoid Cruises, Even if Vaccinated

The CDC updated its guidance for cruise ship travel, and now says people “with an increased risk of severe illness” should avoid traveling on cruise ships, even if they are fully vaccinated. This includes river cruises.

Previously, the CDC’s recommendation was just for those who are not vaccinated to avoid sailing.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high,” says the CDC website.

“Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships. CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide.
People with an increased risk of severe illness should also avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, regardless of vaccination status.”

This change comes as cruise lines continue to put in stronger protocols to battle a surge of COVID cases in the United States with the rise of the Delta variant. From a low of roughly 12,000 cases per day in the U.S. in late June, the average number of new cases has increased more than ten-fold in recent weeks. The current 7-day average of new cases in the United States stands at roughly 140,000, according to Worldometers.

Part of that increase comes from so-called “breakthrough” cases where a fully-vaccinated person still falls ill. While these cases are typically more mild thanks to the power of the vaccine, data shows they can still lead to hospitalization or death.

And when it comes to cruising, even having nearly all passengers and crew vaccinated has still not been enough to keep cases completely off of ships. For instance, Carnival Vista recently had 26 crew members and one passenger (all vaccinated) test positive.

The rise of the Delta variant has also led to a rise in the number of ships having COVID issues. The CDC tracks cases on U.S.-based cruise ships, assigning a color-coded status. Green status means there have been no cases on the ships in the past seven days. Orange, yellow, or red status indicates possible cases (or issues in reporting data to the CDC).

The latest data shows that 35 of the 68 ships tracked (51.5%) have yellow or orange status:

CDC color status counts for cruise ships

This comes despite cruise lines implementing masking, testing, and vaccination requirements on ships. For instance, Carnival Cruise Line now requires guests — even if vaccinated — to present a negative test taken within three days of sailing.

There’s little doubt that cruise lines are doing everything they can to limit cases onboard, but as the CDC says on its website, it knows that “it is not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of COVID-19.”

As cases fall on land, that should also reduce the number of cases being found on cruise ships. Until then, if a person is unvaccinated or at a higher risk for complications, the health agency suggests avoiding cruising for now.

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