(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidance will soon be optional for many cruise ships.
When the CDC Extended Conditional Boating Order Expires Saturday, the agency will transition to a voluntary program for foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in US waters.
The transition comes about two weeks after the agency passed the cruise travel at the highest risk level in its regularly updated travel advisories, advising travelers to avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status.
As of January 12, all ships carrying passengers that were currently monitored under the agency’s cruise ship color status system were listed as yellow, indicating that the volume of reported COVID-19 cases has reached CDC investigation threshold.
The green, orange, yellow, and red designations indicate a ship’s COVID-19 status from best to worst. A gray designation is reserved for ships that have not been reviewed by the CDC for COVID-19 safety.
During a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska asked about the CDC’s order on behalf of businesses counting on the upcoming summer tourism season.
“I think the conditional sailing order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in making and exceeding, as you know, enforcement of the sailing order without the order necessarily having to be in place is a testament. how well it’s worked,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
He also noted that in the past two weeks the CDC has seen “a thirty-fold increase in cases on ships this season due to omicron.”
“What I can’t predict is what the summer will bring,” Walensky added.
Cruise lines can refuse to participate
Starting Jan. 15, participation in the CDC program will be voluntary, the agency confirmed Thursday. Those boats that choose not to participate will be designated with the gray category.
The voluntary program only applies to ships operating in US waters and sailing international itineraries. Cruise ships sailing only in US waters that choose not to participate will not be included in the color status list.
Cruise ships that choose to participate in the program “agree to follow all recommendations and guidance issued by the CDC as part of this program,” the agency said. “These recommendations are aimed at reducing the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said the CDC’s move to a voluntary program “recognizes the cruise industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry.” .
The CLIA statement says that the cruise industry is the only segment in travel and tourism that requires high levels of vaccination of passengers and crew prior to embarkation and testing for 100% of passengers.
CDC rules under the Conditional Sailing Order have required 95% of passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated to sail under most circumstances, and some cruise lines have required vaccination of all passengers and the crew.
Information about the voluntary program has been sent to the cruise industry, the CDC said, and more information will be released when the conditional sailing order expires.
The agency anticipates decisions on cruise ship participation in the coming week.