An Editorial On Cruising, The CDC And Policy
The CDC Has A Plan To Regain Authority Over Cruising
Our Cruising Experiences In The Age Of Covid
In the past three months my wife and I have taken three cruises. While on the first cruise it was reported they had a case of Covid-19 onboard. The positive case with their family left the ship in the next port and we had no more Covid-19 reports on the cruise. The second cruise was Covid-19 free and the most recent cruise reported several of the crew had tested positive with two reporting symptoms during the last cruise. One of them recovered during our cruise and after testing negative resumed her job as Loyalty Ambassador.
Required wearing of masks changed to mask free on the second cruise and we were told that the last ship would eliminate masking on the next cruise. Between the three cruises we were tested before boarding each time and had additional tests before entering several ports.
The second cruise was a trans-Atlantic with no cases and no mask wearing
It is our opinion that most cruise ships are dealing well with new health requirements and generally we do not feel at risk while cruising. Over the past two years most people have come to terms with accepting the risks of contracting Covid-19 and are getting on with their lives and getting back to travel. This new CDC program is simply more evidence that governments just can’t surrender their control regardless of circumstances.
The CDC And The New Voluntary Cruise Program
Not being happy with technically being forced to lift their “no sail” and “provisional sailing”orders, the CDC has come up with another scheme to discourage Americans from booking on cruise ships or at least to make some people feel uncomfortable booking future cruises. The obvious intention of their new program is to make the policy appear reasonable while demonstrating that the CDC has a carefully crafted plan to improve the safety for future cruising.
Examining the new program it quickly becomes obvious that the real intention is to coerce the cruise industry into participating by threatening to provide to the public classifications of ships as “Gray” instead of their “Vaccination Standard of Excellence” or “Highly Vaccinated” classification. Gray cruise ships would be foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in U.S. waters that have chosen not to participate in CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships. With this it is important to understand that as of now there is only one large, ocean going cruise ship that is a U.S. flagged vessel.
American flagged ships will not have to follow most of the new policies.
Ships that receive the “Vaccination Standard of Excellence”– the highest category – will require at least 95% of passengers and crew to be up-to-date with all COVID-19 vaccinations, including boosters.
“Highly Vaccinated” ships will denote ships sailing with at least 95% of passengers and crew fully vaccinated (but less than 95% total that have received all COVID-19 vaccines, e.g. boosters).
Finally, “Not Highly Vaccinated” ships will be ships that have less than 95% of passengers and crew onboard that are fully vaccinated.
Once a cruise line agrees to place their ships into the program the CDC will institute a whole galaxy of additional regulations and requirements along with current CDC policies and any new policies they might implement in the future. This includes all participating ships must have a COVID-19 response plan in place that includes protocols for training all crew in COVID-19; onboard surveillance of passengers and crew that test positive for COVID-19 or other illnesses similar to COVID-19; and testing plans that match CDC technical instructions. Response protocols will also need to be in place for onboard isolation and quarantine, with consideration for capacity during an outbreak, and for onboard medical staff and hospital-grade equipment for treating positive cases. Cruise ships will also need to have adequate protective gear for medical staff, publish procedures for disembarkation of COVID-19 positive passengers, and a statement of intent that the cruise ship operater will observe all measures of its COVID-19 response plan, inclusive of any public health recommendation updates given by the CDC.
February 14, 2022 From The CDC Website
The CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships, including color status definitions and thresholds has been Announced by the CDC.
A New Policy Is Being Implemented By The CDC
Further complicating the re-introduction of cruise ships to the American market the CDC will now recommend that cruise ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters select to participate in CDC’s COVID-19 Rating Program for ships. The program will be based on information coerced from cruise companies supplied to the CDC “voluntarily”. The CDC will use the data to assign color coded status for ships in the program based on data about the vaccine status of crew and booking passengers per cruise.
The CDC reports that their color-coding system will give travelers information they can use to make informed decisions about their safety before choosing to travel on specific cruise ships. Color status designations indicate the number of vaccinated people onboard, COVID-19 cases reported for each ship, whether an investigation is needed along with additional public health measures recommended for a ship that it it should be taking, and whether a ship has opted out of the program.
These ships may have their own COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which CDC has not reviewed or confirmed. CDC cannot confirm the COVID-19 public health measures implemented on “Gray” designated ships. Therefore, CDC does not recommend that travelers book on these ships.
But wait there’s more…
Daily Data Reporting- Cruise ships participating in the new program will be required to fill out and submit daily COVID-19 forms to the CDC, which the agency will have discretion to post publicly.
Enhanced Onboard and Onshore COVID-19 Testing and Isolation.
All crew must be screened before embarking or disembarking in the United States. All crew members must undergo viral testing within specific 48-hour period to detect possible positive cases of COVID-19.
Anyone who produces a positive antigen test result must be reported as positive and may not be retested to eliminate false positives. All positive cases are classified as new cases unless the person is asymptomatic and has proof of recovery from COVID-19 within the last 90 days.
Any passengers who report COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms will be immediately tested and isolated, regardless of vaccination status. Retesting will not be an option.
Ships with a “Vaccinated Standard of Excellence”, close contacts of passengers who test positive for COVID-19 must be tested immediately, quarantined for five full days after their last contact with the infected person, and then retested. On “Highly Vaccinated” and “Not Highly Vaccinated” ships, close contacts must quarantine for 10 days and may only end quarantine if they are asymptomatic and test negative. There are no exceptions to this program — and no clarity as to whether this 10-day quarantine must be completed onboard, ashore, or both.
Quarantining Policy Under the New CDC COVID-19 Program
The new CDC program has specific guidelines for quarantined cabins, including the requirement that quarantined individuals be isolated in single-occupancy cabins with their own bathroom
Quarantined guests may not have direct contact with anyone outside of the onboard medical staff, and their cabins may not be serviced by crew. Meals must be served in disposable containers with single-use cutlery and must have contactless delivery.
The CDC also requires that cruise lines implement surveillance of isolated passengers to make sure they are complying with their quarantine orders.
On ships with a Vaccinated Standard of Excellence, symptomatic isolated passengers may rejoin their cruise after five days if they are asymptomatic or have been fever-free for 24 hours. Confirmed asymptomatic cases will be allowed to leave isolation after five days and with a negative antigen test taken on day five. On ships with other vaccine classifications, the waiting period bumps up to 10 days — all of which seemingly must be served onboard.
Virtually all of these CDC requirements have little to do with helping cruises become safer and much to do with exercising power and control.