The CDC lifted the No Sail Order for cruise ships today, ending a more than seven-month ban on large cruise ship operations in U.S. waters. The agency established a series of requirements cruise lines will have to undertake to prevent the spread of Covid-19, creating a path to the resumption of passenger operations.
The agency issued a Conditional Sailing Order that detailed a phased approach to the resumption of service in order to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spread to passengers, crew and U.S. communities.
About 75% of respondents to the agency's request for comment favored the return.
Citing the continued spread of Covid-19 worldwide and what it calls an increased risk "of Covid-19" on cruise ships, the CDC said "a careful approach is needed to safely resume cruise ship passenger operations."
The initial phase will consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members and ensuring cruise lines have adequate health and safety protections for crew.
Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages to test the cruise lines' ability to mitigate Covid-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and a phased return to passenger cruises in a manner that, the CDC said, would mitigate Covid-19 risk to passengers, crew and U.S. communities.
The No Sail Order first went into effect on March 14 and was extended on April 15, July 16 and Sept. 30, when it was extended until Oct. 31.
Detail on the requirements
Once a ship is certified to sail, cruises will be restricted to seven days or fewer in length, which the CDC said it may shorten or lengthen based on public health considerations.
Prior to embarkation, all passengers and crew must be tested for Covid-19 and screened for signs and symptoms or known exposure to Covid-19. Ships must deny boarding to anyone who is suspected of having Covid-19 or is an identified contact of a confirmed or suspected case.
Cruise lines must test all passengers and crew on the day of embarkation and disembarkation, and test results must be available prior to boarding and departing for their final destinations after disembarkation.
Cruise lines must meet standards for hand hygiene, face coverings and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation as required by the CDC. Protocols include modifying meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing. Any passenger or crew reporting illness consistent with Covid-19 during a cruise must be tested, along with any close contacts.
Cruise lines must have medical care agreements in place with shoreside health care entities to enable evacuation to onshore hospitals of any passengers and crew in need of care.
All cruise ships seeking certification to will have to first sail simulated voyages that include volunteer passengers and include activities such as: embarkation and disembarkation of ships at terminals; onboard activities including dining and entertainment; private island shore excursions, if any are planned; transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for Covid-19, from cabins to isolation rooms and quarantine of remaining passengers and nonessential crew.
Once a simulated voyage is complete and the cruise line submits a report of its results, the CDC will determine whether the ship will receive a Conditional Sailing Certificate or if it must modify its practices or engage in additional simulated voyages.
The CDC's rationale
The CDC said it reached its decision to drop the No Sail Order because said its framework enables cruise ships to operate if they are willing to take the necessary precautions to mitigate risk, while it continues to prohibit passenger operations on ships that "have failed to implement such precautions."
"As such, the current framework represents a tailored approach that was determined to be preferable to the status quo No Sail Order," the agency said. "This framework allows for individual cruise lines to progress through phases at variable paces. This enables cruise lines successfully implementing public health measures to return to passenger operations more quickly while others by necessity may move more slowly."
The CDC praised the steps taken by some lines to improve their public health response to Covid-19, citing the Healthy Sail Panel and Carnival Corp.'s work with the World Travel & Tourism Council.
But the agency also said that while these actions "are encouraging, ongoing public health oversight is needed to ensure uniform standards for mitigating the communicable disease risk to crew and prospective passengers."