Setting sail on a cruise in the US could make a comeback as soon as this summer. The CDC is clarifying its existing framework for cruise lines when it comes to resuming operations.
Terminals at ports have mostly sat empty during a pandemic that’s hit the cruise industry hard.
“In Tampa, Hillsborough County, that tourism picture has a lot of pieces to it, and this is a piece that’s still missing for us,” said Santiago Corrada, the president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
The CDC says they’ve met with cruise line representatives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and also discussed the fastest way back to sailing without putting safety in jeopardy.
“CDC remains committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by mid-summer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines and travelers,” the CDC stated. “CDC looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and urges cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July.”
The CDC shared five key clarifications with the existing CSO framework. For one, it says ships can bypass test cruises and go directly to open water sailing with passengers if a ship attests 98 percent of its crew and 95 percent of its passengers are fully vaccinated.
“When there’s an industry that’s not in place, you have affected workers, you have affected locals, you have affected revenues, whether they’re profits or taxes that are paid,” said Corrada.
Corrada explained Florida is a huge cruise industry market and said they’re anxious to get that missing piece back in play, but with safety precautions in place.
“In order to open up, they need the guidance to open up, and they need to do it in a way that’s going to be safe, and consumers need to be confident they can do it," said Corrada. "No one wants take a cruise and get sick. They want to go on a cruise and have a great time and know that they’re not going to get sick.”
The CDC says it will also update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew to closely align with its guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. Another clarification meant it would review and respond to applications for test cruises within five days, down from the anticipated 60 day waiting period, which the CDC says puts cruise ships closer to open water sailing sooner.
“If everybody is vaccinated, then they’re all in that bubble that we’ve talked about, and they’re safe within that bubble, but if they venture out of that bubble, for example onto the streets of Nassau or Puerto Rico, and they come up to a crowd, they should wear their mask, and they should socially distance, and they should wash their hands,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson with USF Health.
Dr. Wolfson said people should know the industry is doing a lot of work to make ships as clean, safe, and sanitized as possible, but he says it’s still important to keep public health practices in place.
“Vaccination does not guarantee that you are completely immune from the disease. It simply reduces significantly the likelihood you will get sick or very sick,” said Wolfson. “You can still get it. You may still be able to pass it on to others, so just be careful out there.”
U.S. cruise ships have been docked since March 2020, when COVID-19 began spreading throughout the world. Cruise ships were a huge contributor to the early spread of the virus — the Diamond Princess cruise ship saw 712 infections and 13 deaths linked to the virus.
Since the shutdown in March, the CDC has extended no-sail orders on cruise ships multiple times, most recently through Nov. 1. The moves have angered those in the cruise industry and politicians in states where ships often depart.
Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sued the federal government in the hopes of reopening cruise ships.
"People are still going to go on cruises,” DeSantis, a Republican, said. “You know what they're going to do? Instead of flying to Miami, spending money to stay in our hotels, spending money to eat in our restaurants before they get on the ship, they're going to fly to the Bahamas, and they're going to get on the ship from the Bahamas, and they're going to spend the money in the Bahamas.”
Port Tampa Bay sent ABC Action News the following statement:
"Port Tampa Bay is anxious to resume cruise sailings and has worked closely with our cruise line partners to follow the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. We are ready to do our part to ensure passenger safety and follow all protocols in place for a safe return of cruising."