Health officials in the United States have raised the COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level for cruise ships from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level. This comes after dozens of cruise ships were flagged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for virus outbreaks earlier this week.
"The COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level has been updated from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level. This reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since the identification of the Omicron variant," the CDC said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status. If you travel on a cruise ship, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel and get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you are eligible. Getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself from severe disease, slow the spread of COVID-19, and reduce the number of new variants. People who are not fully vaccinated should follow additional recommendations before, during, and after travel. -CDC
Here are some of the key points of the CDC's new warning for cruise ship travelers:
- Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status.
- Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
- 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.
- Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.
- If you travel on a cruise ship, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel and get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you are eligible.
- People who go on a cruise should get tested 1–3 days before their trip and 3–5 days after their trip, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms.
- Along with testing, passengers who are not fully vaccinated should self-quarantine for a full 5 days after cruise travel.
- People on cruise ships should wear a mask to keep their nose and mouth covered when in shared spaces. While CDC is exercising its enforcement discretion under CDC's Mask Order to not require that persons wear a mask under certain circumstances on board foreign-flagged cruise ships subject to the Temporary Extension & Modification of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), including onboard cruise ships choosing to follow the requirements of the CSO on a voluntary basis, individual cruise lines may require travelers (passengers and crew) to wear masks on board the ship.
According to the CDC, the current situation is that 89 cruise ships have reported outbreaks of the virus.
Earlier this week, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that cruise ship operators are "repeating recent history as petri dishes of Covid-19 infection."
"Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause—docking their ships," Blumenthal tweeted.
The CDC is investigating 89 cruise ships for COVID outbreaks. Of that, 32 are Carnival, 25 Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, and 15 Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. The CDC's website said four Walt Disney Co.'s Disney Cruise Line are now under watch.
News of CDC raising the warning level for travelers has sent cruise ship operators shares tumbling into the afternoon session.
Carnival Corp shares plunged around 4% after the news hit the wires.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd shares stumbled about 3%.
Cruise ships were once lauded as one of the safest vacations due to their strict health policies of only allowing vaxxed adults and their ability to isolate themselves from the rest of the "dangerous" world. Now they've become floating COVID-infested cities. Could this suggest that fully vaxxed people can easily transmit the virus? The answer is likely yes.