Roughly two years since the start of the health crisis and the pause in cruising, the CDC has removed its Travel Health Notice for cruise travel.
Just last month this notice was at Level 4, the highest level, signifying “Very High” Covid-19 levels. But recently that was lowered to Level 3 and just weeks later to Level 2. Now, just two weeks after the move to Level 2, the agency has removed the notice altogether.
Attempting to access the previous warning simply take you to a general page titled “Cruise Ship Travel During COVID-19” outlining what travelers should know about sailing on a cruise. The previous notice regarding the Level 2 status has been removed.
As you might expect, the cruise industry applauded the move. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry group, released the following statement:
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to altogether remove the Travel Health Notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020.
“From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA’s cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.”
Notably, a list of countries with CDC travel recommendations covers nearly the entire globe, with the risk assessment still at Level 4 for most of North America, South America, Europe, and Australia.
This change in the cruising risk comes as the number of cases in the United States has dropped sharply in recent weeks as the Omicron wave ran its course.
What the Change Means for Passengers
So what does this mean for cruise passengers? Well, you shouldn’t expect protocols like vaccines and testing to go anywhere soon. The CDC’s voluntary “COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships” is still in place, offering the guidelines for cruise lines the follow.
Furthermore, the health agency’s page on cruise travel still says passengers should “make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines before cruise travel.”
But a reference that passengers who are not up to date with vaccines (meaning they haven’t received the booster) and are immunocompromised should avoid cruise travel has now been removed. Instead, the CDC now says if you are at an increased risk of illness, you should talk to your doctor about precautions needed to travel.
Another reference stating that “cruise ship travel is not a zero-risk activity” has also been removed, although the health agency still says that Covid spreads easily between people in close confines of a ship.
The CDC also recommends that you check the ship’s color and vaccination status before sailing. (You can see our updates regarding cruise ship color status here.)
For passengers, however, it’s not clear that much will change onboard, at least right now. For example, the CDC’s guidelines still require testing before boarding a cruise ship. It also suggest masks when indoors on the ship, although says that cruise lines can allow you to go without.
Number of Green Ships Rises… But Reverses Trend in Recent Days
The change in warnings comes after the number of ships seeing Covid cases plummeted. However, in recent days there has been a rise again in ships seeing cases.
From a low in January of just nine ships seeing “green” status (indicating no possible cases) during the peak of the Omicron wave, the number of ships with no cases rose quickly as the spread on land and at sea eased. By mid-March, 58 ships enjoyed green status from the CDC.
That number has since fallen somewhat to 37 ships in recent days and bears watching. (Keep in mind as little as one case can lead to a color status other than green.)
Even so, the CDC’s decision to drop the travel warning for cruise travel should make cruise passengers feel more confident in the safety of protocols on cruise ships.