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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

CDC updates COVID-19 Testing Guidance for Cruise Ship Industry

Check your favorite cruise line! At least four cruise lines have shortened the time that guests have to get a negative COVID test before their cruise, after the Centers for Disease Control made changes to the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).

Even though the CSO and its accompanying guidance are now non-binding recommendations, several cruise lines have chosen to continue to adhere to its advice on a voluntary basis.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC, Disney, and Holland America have announced newly-updated pre-cruise testing protocols set to begin on all sailings from the U.S. from Sept. 13, 2021. Princess Cruises will begin implementing its new pre-cruise testing requirements beginning Sept. 19, 2021.

All of these lines are requiring a negative COVID test two days prior to embarkation.  For example if you sail on Saturday, you will need to provide proof of a negative test taken Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The only outlier from this list of cruise lines is Norwegian.  NCL recently updated their policy to PROVIDE  the test to passengers at the port prior to embarking:

"All guests will be required to take a COVID-19 antigen test, administered and paid for by the cruise line, prior to boarding and receive a negative result. Guests are also responsible for complying with all local health and safety requirements which may include additional testing."

Princess Cruise Line has only indicated that they have partnered with Quest Diagnostics to facilitate a pre cruise COVID test, however be prepared that your insurance company will be billed.  Princess has indicated they will provide guests with a COVID test upon disembarking from a cruise vacation if required to reenter your home country. You should note that the CDC suggests ocean and river cruise guests get tested for COVID 3-5 days after disembarking from your ship. 

Many cases of COVID have been reported since cruise ships began operating again.  Carnival Cruise Line has had the significant press regarding their voyages and one passenger passed away after being removed from her voyage in Belize. 

The MSC Virtuosa had significant outbreaks on board with multiple passengers (counts have been estimated to be over 100) complaining of COVID-19 after returning from their European cruise.  This went virtually unnoticed in the US press since most of the passengers were British. Now MSC has announced increased COVID measures on board the Virtuosa. 

Cruise companies have a vested interest to not report cases of COVID-19 to the media or to passengers.  While we sailed on Viking Jupiter in Iceland during July, a passenger tested positive for the virus.  As a result, some passengers were quarantined for the remainder of the cruise due to contact tracing.  Viking never told us as passengers, that there was a confirmed COVID case or that other passengers were in quarantine.  In fact, the rumor was circulated that the case was a false positive and was never confirmed.  We suspect that rumor was circulated intentionally.  The Viking Sky, on the same itinerary, three days ahead of us had the entire second half of their cruise cancelled due to a COVID-19 case. 

Unfortunately the CDC does not require reporting of COVID cases on ships operating outside of US ports. Royal Caribbean recently had a passenger sent to the hospital in Italy due to COVID-19 as reported by an Italian news organization. 

Thinking of cruising? What can you do?

Good luck if you would like to know how many people infected with COVID-19 from being aboard cruise ships. Clearly you won't be provided that information by the cruise industry.  Fortunately, the CDC is making efforts to inform the public. 

USA Today initially reported in early August that the CDC updated its guidance to recommend travelers (departing from U.S. ports) who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 avoid cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status. According to the CDC:

"CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide. That’s because the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high since the virus appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships. It is especially important for people with an increased risk of severe illness to avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises. CDC has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for cruise ship travelers who are not fully vaccinated."

The new CDC guidance applies to older adults (defined as 65 and older), people with certain medical conditions and pregnant and recently pregnant people. Prior to this announcement, the CDC recommended that only people who were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 completely avoid cruise ships. 

A table on the CDC website, which promises to be updated several times a week, assigns each ship a color status—green, orange, yellow, red or gray. 

The color-coding is based on both surveillance data collected over the previous 7-day period as well as the findings of any CDC investigations. (When cruise ships notify the CDC of a suspected or confirmed case of the virus, the agency determines whether an investigation is needed.) 

  • Green status means the ship has no reports of cases of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness.
  • Orange status means the ship has reported cases of COVID-19 but is below the threshold for CDC investigation.
  • Yellow status means the ship has met the threshold for CDC investigation, which includes one of the following criteria:
    • at or above the investigation threshold for crew COVID-19 cases,
    • at or above the investigation threshold for passenger COVID-19 cases; or
    • state or local health department notified CDC of passenger COVID-19 cases occurring within 5 days of disembarkation.
  • Red status means the ship is at or above the threshold for passenger and crew COVID-19 cases. Based on CDC’s investigation, additional public health precautions, such as returning to port immediately or delaying the next voyage, will be taken to help ensure the health and safety of onboard travelers or newly arriving travelers.
  • Gray status means CDC has not reviewed or confirmed the cruise ship operator’s health and safety protocols. This status only applies to cruise ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida that chose to not follow the CSO on a voluntary basis.
The major limitation of this system is that it only informs us about cruise ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters. For example, we cruised in Iceland during July 2021 on Viking Ocean and data on that line is not available.  Click here to see our series of videos from Iceland on YouTube. 

Click below to check out these combined vaccine card and passport covers at Amazon! You can use them to organize all the documents needed to travel internationally these days! 

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