In news that will definitely leave a funny tan line, the CDC released new Operations Manual rules for the return of cruising, which requires masks even while “seated on the pool deck area” of a ship.
In other words, even if you are in a swimsuit getting some sun outside, the mask stays on.
The new instructions cover a number of different aspects of life aboard cruise ships whenever they do return, including requirements for how to perform contact tracing, social distancing, and testing for the virus.
But it was the rules regarding mask-wearing on the ship that caught our eye.
The agency explained the following requirements under the heading of “Mask Use” within the manual:
To reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, cruise ship operators must:
- Provide passengers and crew with information on how to properly wear, take off, and clean cloth masks.
- Remind passengers and crew not to touch their masks when wearing them.
- Position posters educating passengers on how to properly wear masks in high traffic areas throughout the ship.
- Ensure bathers wear masks while congregating outside of recreational water facilities (RWFs) and while seated on the pool deck area. Masks do not need to be worn in the water, e.g., in RWFs or while swimming in the ocean. A wet cloth mask can make it difficult to breathe and likely will not work correctly. This means it is particularly important for bathers to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters) when in the water with others who are not traveling companions or part of the same family.
That rule is sure to cause an uproar among cruise passengers. While most figured that masks would be required in indoor areas, having to wear one outside — especially if vaccinated and distanced from others — will no doubt seem excessive to many.
This is especially the case on a cruise ship, where being out in the sun is a major part of the experience.
The CDC does say that masks don’t have to be worn inside your cabin. Apart from that, and while eating and drinking, the rules appear to provide little leeway. Masks are to be worn practically full time.
In fact, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. CEO is even concerned that masks would have to be put back on during meals or while having a drink at the bar.
The instructions say they allow “temporarily removing a mask for brief periods of time while eating or drinking” but that “removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation” of the order.
“I have to tell you that I am disappointed at first read,” Del Rio said during a recent investor call. “I’m going to give the CDC an opportunity to expand and clarify — we have a call with them this afternoon — on some of the requirements.”
“For example… even though everyone onboard would be vaccinated, in between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask. So, nobody should order soup because your mask might get sloppy.”
Will the Same Rules Apply to Fully Vaccinated Cruises?
While the new mask instructions from the CDC might be the most controversial, there are plenty more requirements that cruise lines are facing.
This includes restaurants and bars changing layouts to allow at least six feet distance, as well as limiting capacity in theaters, casinos, and other venues. Buffets and drink stations are required to be eliminated to avoid the use of shared surfaces. Self-guided or “independent exploration” by passengers during port stops are also no longer allowed for the time being.
Many of these requirements aren’t surprising as they align with the Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations that were put forward months ago by a joint effort of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.
What’s yet to be seen, however, is how these rules change (if at all) in the case of fully vaccinated cruises, such as those currently offered by NCL and Royal Caribbean.
We noticed that within the Operations Manual, vaccines are barely mentioned, except to say that the masking rules do apply to fully vaccinated passengers. The assumption, then, is that the requirements apply to all cruises regardless of if everyone on the ship has had the shot or not.
But if you have had the shot — along with everyone else on the ship — and can’t even sunbathe without wearing a mask, then what exactly is the point of taking the dose?
Why Cruise When You Could Stay on Land With Fewer Restrictions?
If all the requirements apply even to passengers who’ve taken the shot, it’s likely to be much tougher to convince people to set sail and be a another blow to the industry.
In many places around the United States, bars and restaurants are fully open with 100% capacity. Sporting events continue to let in more and more spectators. Some Las Vegas casinos are even operating without capacity restrictions. And yes, you can work on your tan by a resort’s pool without wearing a mask.
This fuels the claim made by the cruise industry that they are being treated unfairly and being singled out by the CDC.
“On top of that vaccination mandate, we’re going to implement the 74 Healthy Sail Panel recommendations. That one-two punch is unbeatable. No one on Earth has it. Yet, the CDC continues to treat us differently,” said Norwegian’s Del Rio.
If the choice is going on a cruise ship and having to wear a mask at the pool, or simply staying at the beach in Miami and having far fewer restrictions, it’s hard to imagine many opting to set sail.