The CDC cruise ship assessment is relaxing once again. On Wednesday, the health organization announced that it would no longer issue COVID-19 health travel notices for cruises. The notices, which have been in place for more than two years, acted as bulletins for travelers on the general risk level of cruising. The ranking system ranged from Level 4, which meant there was a “very high” risk of the virus on board ships to Level 2, which meant cruising risk levels were “moderate.”
The fact that the health bulletins will no longer be issued doesn't necessarily mean that there's zero COVID risk while cruising; rather, CDC officials say that at this stage of the pandemic, travelers can assess their own comfort level with boarding a cruise ship. “While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings,” Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. Going forward, the CDC still advises travelers to be up to date with their vaccines before boarding a ship and that they should follow any other health guidelines that their cruise line might have in place.
In recent weeks, the CDC has been downgrading its COVID risk levels on cruise ships as outbreaks of the virus decreased. In earlier March, the CDC cruise ship notice was bumped down to Level 3, and two weeks later it was decreased to Level 2.
The cruise industry lauded the news on Wednesday. “We’re absolutely thrilled to see that the CDC recognizes that it’s time to remove the Travel Health Notice website,” Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, said in a statement. "While we feel this was a long time coming, we recognize this move as a demonstration of all of the hard work this industry has done to ensure that we’re offering the safest way to travel. It’s refreshing to see them meet us where we’re at, and clearly where our consumers are at considering the major uptick in demand we’ve seen.” Indeed, Virgin Voyages says that March 2022 has been its strongest month ever for bookings, which jumped 120 percent from January.
Elsewhere, the Cruise Lines International Association, a top industry group, said it expects nearly 100 percent of global cruise capacity to restart by the end of July. “As we continue to welcome back passengers, we look forward to facilitating unforgettable vacation experiences in a way that continues to prioritize the health and safety of everyone onboard and the communities that we visit,” Laziza Lambert, CLIA's director of communication and public affairs, said in an emailed statement.
Although the health notices will no longer be issued, the CDC will continue to track COVID cases on cruise ships nationwide through its color coding system. Through that monitoring procedure, every cruise ship is assigned a color—green, yellow, orange, or red—based on the number of COVID cases on board. The CDC will also be tracking the percentage of passengers who are vaccinated. As the system is optional for cruise lines, ships that choose not to cooperate with the monitoring program will be given “gray” status.
As of Wednesday, there were 37 ships with green status or no COVID cases; 35 with yellow status or an amount of COVID cases below the CDC's threshold for investigation; 34 ships with orange status, which means the number of cases on board warrants investigation; and one gray ship. No ships were in the red zone, which would trigger additional public health measures to go in place on board.