As cruising returns, it does so under dramatically different protocols than when trips were suspended back in March 2020. These new procedures are all designed to limit the number of cases on ships.
For cruise passengers, that can create a number of questions. Is it safe to cruise? What are cruise ships doing to keep passengers healthy? Is there a way to track COVID cases on cruise ships?
Currently the Centers for Disease Control offers a voluntary program to follow for ships sailing in the United States (nearly every cruise ship is opted in). This includes everything from policies for testing crew members, to what to do if there are cases on a ship, to recommendations surrounding masking and distancing.
In addition, the health agency publishes regular updates about the status of cases on cruise ships using a color-coded system. While it doesn’t provide actual case numbers, it does tell the public which ships have possibly had bouts of the virus. This gives insight into what’s happening on all the ships either sailing or planning to sail from the United States.
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Current Color Status of Ships
Below is the current status of all ships tracked by the CDC. While the CDC only provides the latest day’s update on its website, we’ve included past days so that you can see how the status of each vessel changes. We continue to update this table regularly to track each ship’s status over time. The CDC releases new data each weekday.
Data from May 13 (posted May 16) shows 80 of 91 ships the CDC tracks have “non-green” status, indicating the possibility of COVID cases during the past seven days. Keep in mind that the status changes from green with as little as one case.
Note: The box color for each ship listed shows its status. A status other than green does not definitively mean cases were found on the ship. “HV” stands for highly vaccinated cruise ship. More discussion of colors and vaccination status is covered in “What the Color-Coded Status Means” below.
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Recent Updates and Commentary
Today, 80 ships (88% of ships currently tracked) have “non-green” status. This figure has risen steadily in recent weeks.
Eleven ships are green as of the latest update. Six ships are yellow. Seventy-four have orange status:
Ships with status changes to or from “green” since last update:
- Zaandam (Green to Yellow) 👇
- Zuiderdam (Yellow to Green) 👆
Ships removed from list:
- Pearl Mist
Ships added to list:
– During the course of the CDC’s tracking, the status of ships typically followed cases on land. Now, we are seeing cases on land remain relatively low from past peaks, but the number of impacted ships rise.
The number of green ships bottomed and then rebounded sharply following the Omicron wave. However, now there has been a downturn in the number of green ships in recent weeks. From a recent peak of 58 green ships in mid-March, the figure has fallen to just 11.
– After dropping its Travel Health Notice from Level 4 (the highest level) to Level 2 in a matter of weeks, the CDC has now completely removed its Travel Health Notice for cruising.
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.
– With the fall in the number of ‘green’ ships, Cruzely offered some commentary on what passengers should know surrounding cruises and Covid. For example, cases seem to be rising, however, specific case numbers are not released. Meanwhile, cases appear relatively mild according to comments from cruise lines and health departments. You can read more details here.
– The CDC lowered its threshold for a “highly vaccinated” cruise ship from 95% of passengers with the shot to 90%. The agency says that the move should pose little risk since unvaccinated passengers are tested at the terminal before boarding. Our belief is that the move was made to accommodate children during the summer season. Kids have a relatively low vaccination rate. This change gives the cruise lines more flexibility to offer a highly vaccinated cruise while also allowing more children to sail.
What the Color-Coded Status Means
The table above tracks roughly 90 cruise ships across more than a dozen cruise lines. Each day cruise ships can voluntarily submit the “Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) During COVID-19 Pandemic Form” to the CDC. This gives the agency insight into COVID or COVID-like illness on the vessel.
The agency then assigns one of four colors — green, yellow, orange, and red — to each ship, depending on the daily reports. The table is updated several times a week, providing a simple color-coded way to see where there might be issues.
Updates to the Color Status
Previously, the CDC’s color status varied from green, to orange, yellow, then red. Starting in mid-February, the new order is green, yellow, orange, then red. The agency said the orange and yellow colors were switched “to go in a more logical color order.”
As well, status now depends on the number of possible cases based on both passengers and crew. Previously, cases among either passengers or crew could lead to a different color status, depending on who was sick.
Now if there are cases but they are under 0.3% of combined passengers and crew on the ship, then yellow status is given. Cases above 0.3% of those onboard (3 cases out of 1,000 people onboard) earns orange status. Red is still available for higher spread.
Colors are assigned based on the number of possible cases and the ship’s current sailing status (sailing with passengers or crew only).
Green: No reports of COVID or COVID-like illness for seven days and on-time daily submission of EDC forms for the past week.
Yellow: COVID of COVID-like illness reported in the last seven days. If sailing with passengers, the level reported is less than 0.3% of passengers and crew. If sailing with crew only, then cases are less than 1% of all crew.
Orange: Cases for more than 0.3% of passengers and crew if sailing with passengers. If sailing crew only, then cases reported in more than 1% of crew. Failing to submit a daily EDC report on-time also gives orange status.
Red: Sustained transmission of illness or the potential for cases to overwhelm medical resources on the ship. Failing to submit a daily EDC report also gives red status.
Gray: Indicates no data for the ship due to it choosing not to comply with the CDC’s voluntary program.
White (N/A): Ships that either have recently left sailing from the U.S. or have just arrived to sail from the U.S. We have marked the days before or after CDC tracking as “N/A” since there is no data. We remove the ship from the table 10 days after it is no longer tracked. This status is not an official color designation by the CDC, but we use it to show which ships have recently arrived or left.
Vaccination Status for Ships
In addition to changing the color status, the CDC also introduced different vaccination levels for ships to give the public more insight:
Not Highly Vaccinated (NHV): These are ships sailing with less than 90% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated.
Highly Vaccinated (HV): Ships with at least 90% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated, but less than than those amounts considered “up to date” with their vaccines. “Up to date” means having a booster dose of the vaccine if eligible.
Vaccination Standard of Excellence (VSE): This new category encompasses ships that have at least 90% of passengers and 95% of crew “up to date” with their COVID vaccines, meaning eligible passengers have a booster shot.
What Cruise Ships Are Doing to Keep Passengers & Crew Healthy
While cruise ships are linked to the early days of the pandemic, they have taken extraordinary steps to limit the number of cases on board. In fact, while cases have been reported regularly on ships, the total numbers and spread appear to be small. Omicron did increase cases, however.
To keep passengers healthy, cruise lines are using vaccines and testing as the cornerstones of their plans. Ships sailing require vaccination for nearly all passengers who are eligible.
In addition to vaccines, cruise lines require tests for all passengers before boarding, even if they have the shot.
While some lines are allowing a small number of unvaccinated passengers sail, more restrictions are usually placed on these guests. For instance, multiple tests are required before and during sailing. Travel insurance is required in many instances. Some areas of the ship may be off-limits if a passenger doesn’t have the shot.
Already we’ve seen the protocols change to adapt to variants. There will be more changes in store, depending on the direction of virus cases on land.
Is it Safe to Take a Cruise?
There is little doubt that unabated, illness can spread in the close confines of a cruise ship. That said, the measures taken by cruise lines and the CDC have helped to limit cases.
Royal Caribbean Group, for example, said toward the start of 2022 they had seen about 1.3 million passengers sail and reported 2,500 cases among them (crew cases were not disclosed). That comes out to about 0.2%.
Still, during the Omicron spike cases did rise on ships. Between December 15 and December 29, there were more than 5,000 cases on ships tracked by the CDC, according to The Washington Post, citing CDC data. (The CDC typically doesn’t release case numbers.)
But as cases have eased on land, the CDC has removed its Travel Health Notice regarding cruise travel — a major step and a sign of confidence in cruising. The agency still recommends that passengers be “up-to-date” on their vaccination, meaning having a booster shot if eligible.
The protocols in place still seem to keep cases lower than what may be seen on land. Cases also appear to be more mild than with past variants. Still, there has been a rise in the number of yellow and orange ships that is worth noting for people who are risk-averse.
There’s little argument that if there are cases on land, then there can be cases on ships. The good news is that with the mitigation efforts put in place by cruise lines, these cases are also more likely to be found and contained, especially compared to other places like sports stadiums, airports, or land-based resorts.