CDC Raises COVID-19 Threat Level For Cruises, Adds River Cruising
By Susan Young – Cruise Editor Travel Agent Magaine Nov 23, 2020 9:28am
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has raised the threat level — urging Americans to avoid cruise ship travel including river cruises to a “Threat Level 4: Very High Risk.”
The news coming Saturday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wasn’t good as the agency raised its “Threat Level” warning for all cruises globally from Level 3 to Level 4, which carries a “Very High Risk” label. For the first time, the CDC also added river cruising within that warning.
Among the key points listed for cruise ship travelers is that “the CDC recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high. It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises.”
The CDC also said “cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.”
Most recently, SeaDream Yacht Club had nine cases onboard its first Caribbean sailing from Barbados. The small-ship, luxury yacht brand made a subsequent decision to halt all voyages through the end of 2020. Following the event, two Congress members called on the CDC to reinstitute its “No Sail Order” and ban cruises from U.S. ports.
Some big ship lines, most notably MSC Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Costa Cruises and others, have been sailing successfully in Europe since late summer. Although, recently, both MSC and Costa have had to cancel cruises as a result of on-land situations in Europe due to coronavirus.
The CDC also urged any travelers who opt to sail to get tested three to five days after their trip and stay home for seven days after travel, even if that test is negative. If they don’t opt for post-cruise testing, the agency suggests that they stay home and isolate for 14 days.
On October 30, 2020, the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order for cruise ships operating or seeking to operate in U.S. waters. This Order introduced a phased approach for resuming passenger cruises.
That said, the CDC noted that “passenger operations continue to be suspended during the initial phases of this order; however that suspension is only applicable to cruises from U.S. ports on ships of more than 250 passengers. Most U.S. river cruise vessels are below that threshold.
The initial phase of the CDC’s framework for conditional sailing requires crew screening to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 among all crew members currently on cruise ships in U.S. waters. Many lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Ponant and others, have already “paused” their suspension of operations into 2021.
In the new Threat Level 4, the most notable part is this pronouncement by the agency: “At this time, CDC still recommends avoiding any travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high.
“It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises.
“Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.
The Threat Level 4 warning also provides information about what travelers who will be boarding ships do to protect themselves and others.
Travel Agent received this brief statement from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) about the CDC’s latest action: “We share a common goal with the CDC, which is to protect the public health of our passengers, crew and destinations. We will continue to work with the CDC to establish a pathway to resumption in the U.S.”
Late last week CLIA released its 2019 U.S. Economic Analysis report, which showed that cruising on an annual basis generated $55.5 billion in economic activity in the United States, a 5.3 percent increase from 2018. Moreover, growth in economic activity was accompanied by an increase in industry-supported jobs. According to the report, the cruise industry supported 436,600 American jobs paying $24.4 billion in wages in 2019—a 3.5 percent and 5.4 percent increase from 2018, respectively.
Travel industry leaders, particularly those representing travel advisors, have recently voiced their opinions that other industries —airlines, hotels and theme parks—are not held to the same stringent standards as the cruise industry, which has a 100 percent testing requirement for guests and crew. Still, that was not enough to prevent the COVID-19 cases on SeaDream earlier this month, but guests also were not wearing masks for the first few days of that cruise.
When we recently spoke with Brad Tolkin, co-chairman of World Travel Holdings, he pointed that in Italy, worsening COVID-19 rates, have caused a partial shut-down on land, but officials have opted not to shut down cruises—signaling confidence in the protocols and preventive measures taken by the cruise industry, including significant pre-cruise testing.