Unvaccinated, people with health risks should avoid cruises, CDC says

As the cruise industry begins to resume sailing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people who are not fully vaccinated should avoid travel on cruise ships.

The health agency says people with an increased risk of severe illness should also avoid travel on cruise ships regardless of vaccination status. 

People who do decide to take a cruise should also get tested for the novel coronavirus 1-3 days before their trip and 3-5 days after their trip, regardless of their vaccination status, the CDC added. 

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"The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high. Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships," the CDC wrote on its website containing updated guidance on COVID-19 and cruise ship travel.

But despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a cruise ship headed for the Mexican Riviera set sail from the Port of Long Beach on Saturday — the first cruise ship to depart from California in 17 months. 

The cruise industry was hard-hit by the pandemic after passengers and crew members tested positive for COVID-19 and some ships were turned away from ports. The industry has battled the CDC over health requirements to resume sailing in U.S. waters.

For the first time since the COVID-19 winter surge, coronavirus hospitalizations have topped more than 100,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Aug. 25, the department’s online dashboard reported 100,317 impatient beds are in use for COVID-19 with more than 5,400 hospitals reporting their data.

Earlier this month, the most recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. crossed 100,000 new confirmed daily infections largely driven by the highly transmissible delta variant and low vaccination rates in the South.

Health officials fear that cases, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to soar if more Americans don’t embrace the vaccine. Nationwide, 50% of residents are fully vaccinated and more than 70% of adults have received at least one dose.

In response to the surge and in order for the cruise industry to avoid another financial disaster that was caused from closures due to the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic last year, cruise lines have initiated various mandates aimed at curbing the spread of the disease. 

Disney said on Wednesday that it will soon require vaccines for its cruise passengers ages 12 and up on ships to the Bahamas.

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According to a statement from Disney, unvaccinated children must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken between five days and 24 hours prior to the cruise and will also be given a second test at the terminal before boarding.

"We are resuming sailing in a gradual, phased approach that emphasizes multiple layers of health and safety measure," the statement said.

Other cruise lines including Royal Caribbean have updated their policies with similar mandates. Carnival said that only children under 12 and adults with a medical condition that prohibits vaccination are exempt from the requirements starting Aug. 28 through October, for departures from all Atlantic and Gulf homeports.

Norwegian Cruise Line already had a vaccinated-only passenger policy in place.

The mandates conflict with orders from Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who forbid cruise lines from requiring vaccines for passengers. The issue is being decided in the courts where the latest ruling by a federal appeals court overturned pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships.

The CDC is fighting the DeSantis-led lawsuit challenging the regulations, arguing the rules would prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of their close quarters and frequent stops at foreign ports.

But the return of cruise trips also means a return of potential outbreaks. 

Last week, 27 people tested positive for COVID-19 on a Carnival cruise just before the ship made a stop in Belize City, Belize. The ship headed back to Galveston, Texas, Friday after stopping in Mexico.

The positive cases were among 26 crew members and one passenger on the Carnival Vista, which was carrying over 1,400 crew and nearly 3,000 passengers, the Belize Tourism Board said in a statement.

All 27 were vaccinated, had mild or no symptoms and were in isolation, according to the statement. The tourism board said 99.98% of the ship’s crew was vaccinated, as well as 96.5% of its passengers.