CDC COVID Cruise Guidelines Explained As Agency Says to Avoid Them

U.S. citizens have been advised to avoid cruises regardless of their vaccination status as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ups its COVID travel alert to the highest level.

On December 30, the CDC moved its COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level from three to four for cruises, reflecting an increase in COVID cases on cruise ships since the Omicron variant was identified.

The federal health agency said the virus spreads easily between people on board cruise ships and that the chance of catching COVID whilst on a cruise is "very high" even in vaccinated people, including those who have received a booster dose.

The CDC's new travel notice does not amount to an outright cruise ban, but an advisory against them. The agency said that if people do decide to go on a cruise then they should make sure they are fully vaccinated before travel and get a booster dose if they are eligible.

The guidelines also state that people should get tested one to three days before their trip and three to five days afterwards, regardless of if they are vaccinated or not and even if they don't have symptoms of COVID.

In addition to testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for five full days after cruise travel, the CDC notes.

In the new guidelines, the agency said people should use face masks in shared spaces and noted that individual cruise lines may require both passengers and crew to do this anyway.

The cruise industry has hit out at the CDC guidelines, with the Cruise Lines International Association telling Newsweek on Thursday that the travel alert was "particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard."

Meanwhile, the CDC is understood to be investigating dozens of cruise ships associated with COVID outbreaks.

As of December 30, the health agency listed around 90 cruise ships as meeting its threshold for investigation—indicated by the color yellow on a color-based criteria system.

Ships meet the CDC's investigation threshold if, in a restricted voyage, COVID cases are reported in 0.1 percent of passengers or more, or if one or more cases are reported among their crew.

Ships can also be investigated if they fail to submit their daily COVID data forms on time.

Recently a South Florida-based cruise ship was denied entry to Bonaire and Aruba amid a COVID outbreak that had affected an undisclosed number of people on board, its operator Carnival told news agency NPR last week.

The ship had just under 2,500 passengers on board, in addition to 1,112 crew members. According to Carnival, a "small number" of passengers on board were in isolation due to a positive COVID test.

Cruise ship COVID illustration
A stock photo shows a model of a cruise ship on top of a face mask. The CDC has advised people against going on cruises amid a rise in COVID cases. Andreas Steidlinger/Getty