As the Delta variant continues to lead to high case numbers on land, cruise lines and the CDC continue to strengthen protocols to keep cases off of ships.
Case in point: Beginning on Monday, September 13, both Royal Caribbean and Carnival — the two largest lines in the United States — will require negative tests within two days of boarding. Previously, the cruise lines required negative tests within three days. Other lines, including Celebrity and Princess, are enacting similar policies.
This move comes via the CDC, which recently adjusted its rules to require a test no more than two days before the cruise for vaccinated passengers. Unvaccinated passengers (if allowed to sail) still have three days before the cruise to be tested.
Some lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages already have universal testing at the port on embarkation day, despite also requiring everyone on the ship to be vaccinated.
The CDC says on its website that the change was “due to the increased transmissibility of some COVID-19 variants of concern, and evidence of breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated individuals.”
Delta’s Impact on Cruises & Protocols
Despite cruise ships requiring the vast majority of passengers to be vaccinated and testing before boarding, COVID continues to impact cruising. Cruzely has tracked the daily color status of cruise ships as reported by the CDC. Currently, 43% of ships have “non-green” status, indicating possible cases in the past week.
Still, between vaccines and protocols, cruise lines do seem to be containing any spread, but are finding individual cases. Most reports of cases seem to be in the single digits. The one exception was 26 crew members (and one passenger) who were reportedly positive cases aboard Carnival Vista.
That said, neither cruise lines nor the CDC release case numbers from ships, so the specifics are difficult to know. Even so, between vaccination, testing, and masking requirements, the protocols on cruise ships are much more stringent than other forms of travel. It’s little surprise that cases are found regularly given the amount of testing done for cruises.
Meanwhile, in the past few weeks those health protocols have become tighter as the United States continues to see soaring cases.
Most cruises now require masks in many indoor areas, even if the cruise is considered fully vaccinated. Testing for all passengers (even if vaccinated) is now required. And with The Bahamas — one of the most popular countries to visit on a cruise — now requiring cruise passengers 12 and older be vaccinated, lines that had allowed passengers over that age to sail unvaccinated no longer do so.
As long as COVID is still around, expect protocols to be in place to keep passengers healthy and any potential spread contained.
This latest move should help to limit more possible breakthrough cases from ever making it on the ship in the first place, making cruising more safe. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if testing is eventually required of all passengers on embarkation day, similar to what Norwegian Cruise Line is already doing.