Cruising continues to constitute an increased risk for COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said as it extended its No Sail Order for cruise ships through September 30, 2020.
The July 16 extension applies to cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to United States jurisdiction.
In extending the order, the CDC said that cumulative data gathered by the organization from March 1 through July 10, 2020, shows 2,973 COVID-19 or COVID-like illness cases on cruise ships, in addition to 34 deaths.
In total, the CDC said, there were 99 outbreaks on 123 different cruise ships and that during the March 1-July 10 time frame, 80 percent of ships were affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.
As of July 3, the CDC said, nine of the 49 ships under the No Sail Order have ongoing or resolving outbreaks.
The organization said that cruise ships, passengers and crew share spaces that are more crowded than most urban settings and that even when only essential crew are on board, ongoing spread of COVID-19 still occurs.
“If unrestricted cruise ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, passengers and crew on board would be at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and those that work or travel on cruise ships would place substantial unnecessary risk on healthcare workers, port personnel and federal partners (i.e., Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard), and the communities they return to,” the CDC statement read.
No Sail Order in place through September 30
The CDC said the order would remain in effect until the earliest of:
- The expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency,
- The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations, or
- September 30, 2020.
The Cruise Lines International Association had already voluntarily extended its suspension of operations until September 15.
The CDC said it supported the CLIA decision and that “in line with CLIA’s announcement of voluntary suspension of operation by its member companies, CDC has extended its No Sail Order to ensure that passenger operations on cruise ships do not resume prematurely.”
Developing enhanced COVID-19 protocols
CLIA issued a response to the CDC statement saying: “As reflected in today’s announcement, CLIA and its member lines remain aligned with the CDC in our commitment to public health and safety.
“We are also pleased that the CDC has announced its intention to issue a request for information about the industry’s resumption of passenger operations.
“As we continue to work towards the development of enhanced protocols to support the safe resumption of cruise operations around the world, we look forward to timely and productive dialogue with the CDC to determine measures that will be appropriate for ocean-going cruise operations to resume in the United States when the time is right.”
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s healthy-sail panel
In early July, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced an unprecedented collaboration to develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Norwegian and Royal Caribbean enlisted former US Health Secretary Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the FDA, to serve as co-chairs of a group of experts called the “Healthy Sail Panel.”
The panel plans to issue initial recommendations by August 15.
At that time, Leavitt said, the panel would present the “very evident changes that can be made to enhance safety, that can be incorporated in plans that the various cruise lines will then submit to regulators.”
Co-chair of the panel Dr. Scott Gottlieb said that cruising provides an isolated environment with tight control and may potentially be one of the safest ways to travel in the COVID-19 era.
“Could taking a cruise potentially be a safer way to vacation in a COVID environment than going to London ? I think it might,” Gottlieb told Travel Weekly.