CDC issues warning to not cruise to those at high-risk whether vaccinated or not

The Norwegian Gem, a cruise ship owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, is moored at PortMiami on August 9, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)
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Richard Tribou Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated is guidance Friday to warn those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to avoid cruise ships, whether they’ve had the vaccine or not.

It is a shift from the previous warning that only targeted unvaccinated travelers.

“Severe illness means that a person with COVID-19 may need: hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator to help them breathe or they may even die,” according to the CDC.

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The updated guidance specifically warns those at high risk including older adults, people with certain medical conditions and people who are pregnant or recently pregnant.

The CDC’s update comes during the recent wave of the delta variant of COVID-19, which can prove deadly to even vaccinated people with underlying conditions.

Cruise ships returned to sailing from the U.S. for the first time in June, now with more than two dozen vessels departing from Florida, Texas, California, Washington and soon New York.

Most sail with a vaccine requirement for any passenger 12 and older. Children 11 and under do not have a vaccine option. In Florida, though, a state law that went into effect July 1 threatens to fine businesses $5,000 per instance if they require proof of vaccination, so most cruise lines have shifted their stance in the state to allow unvaccinated passengers.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company of NCL, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas, filed a lawsuit over the law and federal judge this month granted an injunction against the state from enforcing it. That opened the door for NCL to begin sailing from Florida with its vaccine-only policy.

Even with Florida’s law shifting cruise lines’ stance on vaccination status, some of the destinations cruise lines most often go to have begun to require vaccinations of cruise line passengers. The Bahamas updated an emergency order this week with just such a requirement, forcing lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and MSC Cruises to limit sailings to only vaccinated passengers 12 and older from Florida when headed to the Bahamas. Carnival and Disney have announce any changes for their Bahamas cruises.

Most cruise lines have focused on the Bahamas as their main destination as they attempt to restart business after more than a year and half of shutdown. That includes stops at private islands such as Disney’s Castaway Cay and Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay.

Cruise lines were at the epicenter of several outbreaks in early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic expanded. The industry shut itself down in March 2020 and was then under a CDC no-sail order. Sailings only began after the CDC shifted to a conditional sail followed by months of shifting guidance before it allowed any cruise ship to sail from U.S. ports.

“The chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high since the virus appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC states.

Several cruise lines have increased safety policies including more mask wearing and pre-cruise COVID-19 testing as the delta variant has taken hold.

Despite the COVID-19 health protocols in place on board ships now up and running with the CDC’s approval, there have been several sailings in which passengers tested positive. Most cases were limited to just a few passengers, and in several cases involved unvaccinated children, who then also infected their vaccinated parents.

The lines, though, enacted their quarantine policies and have been able to continue sailing without any major outbreak.

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