The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) raised its warning last weekend to avoid going on any cruise ship because of “very high level of COVID-19”.
The warning was raised from Level 3 to Level 4 and recommended avoiding any cruise ship, including river cruises, worldwide – “because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high.”
According to a Royal Caribbean blog, the CDC’s 4-level system categorises destinations, including international destinations and US territories, into the following four levels:
• Level 4: Very high level of COVID-19
• Level 3: High level of COVID-19
• Level 2: Moderate level of COVID-19
• Level 1: Low level of COVID-19
In addition to avoiding going on a cruise, anyone that does go on a cruise is recommended to get tested between three to five days after a trip and remain at home for seven days after travel. Even if a test is negative, stay home for the full seven days, CDC said.
If you at test is not conducted, the CDC recommended to stay at home for 14 days after the the cruise’s completion.
CDC has warned against taking cruises since March, due to the global health emergency, but has steadily increased its warnings from an alert, to a watch, to a warning and now simply a “Very High Level of COVID-19”, RCL said.
In order to raise a warning to Level 4, an incidence rate of more than 100 cases per 100,000 people must be recorded over past 28 days.
The centre also said that people with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid cruise ships. Moreover, the agency said anyone with a cruise booked should reschedule their cruise to a future date.
If a cruise is taken, the CDC makes the following recommendations:
• Do not board a cruise if you are sick, if you know you have COVID-19, or if you were exposed to a person with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
• Discuss cruise ship travel with a healthcare provider. Older adults and people of any age with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness if infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
• Stay at least 2 m from anyone who is not travelling with you. It’s important to do this everywhere—both indoors and outdoors.
• Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are in shared spaces, including when using public transportation.
• Wash your hands often or use hand sanitiser (with at least 60% alcohol).
• Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Do not travel if you are sick.
• If you get sick with symptoms of COVID-19, stay in your cabin and notify the on board medical centre immediately.
While the level 4 warning was issued, the framework for a phased resumption of cruise operations is still in effect, the CDC said.
In late October, the centre lifted the ‘No-Sail Order’ cruise ship ban and replaced it with the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).
The CSO has three main phases:
1. Testing and additional safeguards for crew members
2. Simulated voyages to test cruise line ability to mitigate virus spread on board
3. Phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages
These phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operator’s demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, RCL said.
The entire cruise industry has adopted a broad new set of health protocols that exceed the rules and regulations imposed by other sectors of travel, such as calling for 100% testing.
The Healthy Sail Panel that created these new rules is chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.
The panel identified five areas of focus every cruise operator should address:
• Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction
• Sanitation and Ventilation
• Response, Contingency Planning and Execution
• Destination and Excursion Planning
• Mitigating Risks for Crew Members
In each category, the Healthy Sail Panel created practical and actionable recommendations to address specific safety concerns.
RCL said that the CDC had been made aware of the panel and invited to observe the planning and creation of procedures.