Cruise Industry Accuses CDC of Singling Out Sector With New Travel Advisory, Investigations

The cruise industry is slamming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the agency's latest travel advisory recommending against cruise travel, which was announced after a series of COVID-19 cases were reported aboard dozens of ships.

"The decision by the CDC to raise the travel level for cruise is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore," the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in a Thursday statement shared with Newsweek.

On Thursday, the CDC updated the health notice for cruise ship travelers from level three to level four, which means the agency is now recommending that all Americans avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status.

"The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose," the CDC said.

On Thursday, CLIA accused the CDC of targeting the cruise industry even though rising cases of the virus have been reported in other sectors.

"No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus," the CLIA said. "Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel, and significantly lower incidence rates than land."

The cruise trade association, which is the world's largest, said that although it is disappointed by the news and disagrees "with the decision to single out the cruise industry," its members would continue to work with health officials in the interest of the public.

Its members include Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line, among others.

Cruises CDC Travel Advisory Omicron COVID Outbreak
The world's largest cruise trade association called the CDC's latest travel advisory "perplexing" in a statement criticizing the guidance recommending Americans avoid cruise travel at all costs. The Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas cruise ship is prepared for its next voyage as it is docked on December 24, 2021, in Bayonne, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn/Corbis News

The CDC has cited the highly contagious Omicron variant—now the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S.—as a driving factor in the new cases reported on several cruises.

"Since the identification of the Omicron variant, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise passengers and crew reported to CDC," the CDC website reads. "Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation."

On Wednesday, the CDC said 88 vessels are now under investigation or observation by the agency due to high infection levels.

The CDC did not specify how many cases have been reported, but a ship is subject to observation if 0.1 percent or more of passengers test positive. A cruise would also be subject to observation if one crew member tests positive.

Despite the announcement, the federal health agency said it would not adopt any changes in the wake of the new travel advisory and no cruise lines have announced plans to halt operations.

Most cruise lines have protocols that require crew members and adult passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and many have implemented testing, screening, mask-wearing among other measures aboard.

In recent weeks, several Florida-based ships have reported outbreaks.

Florida, where the bulk of the cruise industry is located, has also seen a spike in cases over the last week. The state broke a new pandemic record for new daily cases on Tuesday after reporting 46,900 new infections.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for further comment but did not hear back before publication.