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. Meanwhile, cases on land continue to cause issues even as more people are vaccinated.
For cruise passengers, that can cause 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 outlines the rules and requirements for cruise ships sailing from the United States under its Conditional Sailing Order. This includes everything from policies for testing crew members to what to do if there are cases on a ship to rules surrounding masking and distancing.
In addition, the health agency publishes regular updates about the status of cases on cruise ships using a color-coded table. While it doesn’t provided actual numbers of cases, it does tell you which ships have possibly had bouts of the virus. This gives public 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. While the CDC only provides the latest day’s update on its website, we’ve tracked and 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 several times per week.
Data from September 14 (posted September 15) shows 26 of 73 ships the CDC tracks have “non-green” status, indicating the possibility of COVID cases during the past seven days.
Note: A status other than green does not definitively mean cases were found on the ship. There are other possibilities for a change in status, discussed in “What the Color-Coded Status Means” below.
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Recent Updates and Commentary
While the Delta variant continues to impact the United States, there are signs that cases are peaking. That same patterns seems to be happening with cruise ships as well.
As of August 31, 37 ships were either yellow or orange. That was 52.1% — or more than half — of all ships tracked. However, starting with the data from September 1, a large number of ships showed improved conditions. Since then, the percentage of ships impacted has hovered between 32-43%.
Today, 26 ships (36%) have “non-green” status.
Forty-seven ships are green as of the latest update. Ten ships are orange. Sixteen ships have yellow status:
Ships with status changes since last update:
- Koningsdam (Green to Orange) 👇
- Ruby Princess (Orange to Green) ☝
- Mariner of the Seas (Green to Yellow) 👇
- Odyssey of the Sea (Green to Orange) 👇
- Symphony of the Seas (Yellow to Orange) ☝
Ships removed from list:
Ships added to list:
- Celebrity Constellation
– To date no ships have had to stop sailing due to COVID cases onboard. Cases on ships — while a regular occurrence — have largely been contained thanks to protocols and vaccine requirements.
– Since the large increase in “green” ships between August 31 and September 1, the number of ships with issues has creeped upwards, but stayed well below the 50% level.
– Carnival Glory was temporarily removed from the list as the ship is assisting with disaster response following Hurricane Ida in New Orleans. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Classica is also temporarily removed from the list, as it is charted by Entergy — a power company in Louisiana — to house their workers in the storm’s aftermath.
– Celebrity has added two ships in recent days with Celebrity Constellation and Celebrity Eclipse. Scarlet Lady from Virgin Voyages has also been added to the list ahead of its U.S. debut.
What the Color-Coded Status Means
The table above tracks roughly 70 cruise ships across a dozen cruise lines. Each day cruise ships that want to sail from the United States are required to submit the “Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) During COVID-19 Pandemic Form.” This gives the agency insight into COVID or COVID-like illness on the vessel.
The agency then assigns one of four colors — green, orange, yellow, 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.
Colors are assigned based on number of possible cases and the ship’s current sailing status.
Green: No reports of COVID or COVID-like illness for seven days and on-time daily submission of EDC forms for the past week.
Orange: COVID of COVID-like illness reported in the last seven days. If sailing with passengers, the level reported is less than 0.10% of passengers and no crew cases reported. If sailing simulated voyages or crew only, then cases are less than 1.0% of crew and 1.5% of passengers.
Yellow: Cases for more than 0.10% of passengers or one or more crew cases if sailing paid voyages. If sailing simulated voyages or crew only, then cases reported in more than 1.5% of passengers or 1.0% of crew. Failing to submit a daily EDC report on-time also gives yellow 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.
Status is assigned based on the submitted reports for the past seven days.
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. Case counts reported have largely been in the single digits.
To keep passengers healthy, cruise lines are using vaccines as a cornerstone of their plan. Most ships sailing require vaccination for most passengers.
In addition to vaccines, cruise lines are now requiring tests for all passengers before boarding, even if they have the shot. On the ship, masks are usually being required for indoors. Ships are also sailing at reduced capacity.
While some lines are allowing a small number of unvaccinated passengers sail, more restrictions are 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 off-limits if a passenger doesn’t have the shot.
Already we’ve seen the protocols change to adapt to the rising number of cases and new requirements from ports of call. There’s little doubt that 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 are helping to limit cases so far.
In fact, the agency said on its website at late as mid-August that “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].
(Note: This reference was recently removed. We contacted the CDC as to why and received no response. The CDC does recommend unvaccinated passengers — and passengers who are vaccinated, but at higher risk of COVID complications — avoid cruise travel.)
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, also thinks ships can sail safely. Gottlieb is a leading expert on the pandemic and works with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. as the co-chair of their Healthy Sail Panel. This group is a driving force behind the protocols put in place by cruise lines to keep passengers healthy.
“In the meantime, the vaccines are highly effective, even against the Delta variant, and Norwegian is taking the extra step of coupling vaccines with multiple additional layers of protection against COVID-19, including universal testing before boarding the ship,” Gottlieb recently said during quarterly investor call for NCLH.
“This goes well beyond what we’re seeing in other travel and hospitality sectors. And with the controlled environment a cruise ship provides, it can offer one of the safest vacation options.”
In other words, if you’re vaccinated and otherwise healthy, then the CDC and others do think you can sail safely thanks to the protocols. However, there’s certainly no harm in waiting to sail if you are uncomfortable or unavailable to get the vaccine.
There’s little argument that if there are cases on land, then there can be cases on ships. But 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.