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CDC director can't give timeline on next cruise phase

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, left, said the conditional sail order is not solely up to her agency, and couldn't give Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, right, a timeline
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said she's unable to give a timeline for the second phase of the conditional sail order 'because it's not solely in our jurisdiction to address.'

So far CDC has provided technical guidance for only the first phase of a four-phase framework, 'moving toward phase two,' as Walensky put it. But under questioning from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski about timing — Will it be end of 2021? Three months? One month? — she would not be pinned down.

'This is an inter-agency decision. It is not a decision solely up to the CDC,' Walensky said. 'I would be remiss if I were to do that myself because the decision is not solely up to us.'

Who else then? 

Asked who else is involved in the decision-making, Walensky seemed a little unsure: 'I believe Department of Transportation, OMB (Office of Management and Budget); there are numerous others making these decisions.'

Alaska a vaccination leader but economically stressed

Alaska is a leader in COVID-19 vaccination, with 18.9% of residents fully vaccinated and 28% having at least their first shot, according to Murkowski. Vaccination there is now open to anyone over 16. Countering that good-news story is economic distress, with tourism-dependent Alaskans seeking a timeline so they can plan.

Do the hundreds of small businesses reliant on tourism open, or do they acknowledge it will be the second lost season in a row when they'll have nothing? Murkowski asked.

Walensky said she understands the economic impact of the no-sail and the conditional sail orders and travel restrictions: 'We don't take that lightly.'

Murkowski indicated she would follow up with the CDC chief, acknowledging it's the agency's job to work through the health safety. 'We understand and we respect that, but [are] just trying to gain some sense as to timing,' the senator said. 

And then there's the PVSA

When it comes to Alaska, even if CDC were to green-light cruising from the US in the near future, the state is impacted by Canada's cruise ship ban because the long-standing US Passenger Vessel Services Act forbids foreign-flag ships to sail domestically without an international stop. 

Ships carrying fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) are not subject to the CDC conditional sail order and those that are US registered are able to operate in Alaska.