With this, cruise ship operators have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages. In addition, CDC released the COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate application, the final step before restricted passenger voyages.
The agency said it is committed to working with the cruise industry and port partners to resume cruising following the conditional sailing order's phased approach.
'This goal aligns with the prospective resumption of passenger operations in the United States by mid-summer, expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers,' CDC said.
Both Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Group told Seatrade Cruise News they're reviewing the information.
Eligibility for trial cruises/volunteers
The guidance includes eligibility and requirements for conducting a trial cruise. At least one simulated voyage per ship is required.
Lines should request CDC's approval for these trips at least 30 days in advance and submit their written agreements with port and health officials where the ship will operate (under the previously detailed Phase 2A issued in early April). CDC said it would respond within five business days to submissions.
Each voyage must last between two to seven days. The minimum number of required volunteers for each voyage must be at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers permitted on board for restricted voyages, and volunteers must be at least 18. They must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or document/self-certify that they have no high-risk medical conditions.
They must be tested on day of embarkation and day of disembarkation with same-day results. The type of test was not specified.
The volunteers also must take part in post-disembarkation specimen collection for COVID-19 testing three to five days after the simulated voyage. As a condition of receiving a sailing certificate, at least 75% of the volunteer passengers must provide their post disembarkation specimen for testing within the specified time. CDC may lower this testing requirement for future simulated voyages based on lessons learned from previous ones, and other factors.
Self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops are prohibited. Shore excursions must only include passengers and crew from the same ship.
If the trial cruise visits a private island, only one ship may be in port at a time.
Masking and social distancing are required during port calls and on private islands.
Threshold for terminating a voyage
A simulated voyage must be terminated if 1.5% of COVID-19 cases are detected in passengers or 1% in crew. If a trial cruise is halted for health reasons, it must be repeated at a future date.
The CDC also provided guidelines for inspections of cruise ships conducted by CDC during simulated and restricted passenger voyages and operational procedures to help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Thiese include requirements and recommendations on prevention measures, surveillance for COVID-19 on board, laboratory testing, infection prevention and control, mask use, social distancing, passenger interactive experiences and embarkation/disembarkation procedures.
When it comes to masks, for example, they should be worn at all times except when eating or drinking or inside one's own cabin. It's specified people need mask up while congregating outside of recreational water facilities and while seated on the pool deck area.
No additional documents expected for Phase 4
In the final phase of the CSO, cruise ship operators with an approved COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate application will be permitted to sail with passengers following the requirements of the CSO. CDC does not anticipate releasing any additional documents for Phase 4. Instead, the agency will be updating online documents to incorporate changes to quarantine, testing, color status and lessons learned from simulated voyages.
Since April 12, CDC and senior leadership from other relevant federal agencies have engaged in twice-weekly meetings with cruise line representatives to engage in dialogue and exchange information about the impact of vaccines and other scientific developments since the CSO was issued in late October.
No trial voyages for highly vaccinated cruises
As previously reported, ships may forgo trial voyages if 98% of crew are fully vaccinated and lines submti a 'clear and specific vaccination plan and time line to limit cruise ship sailings to 95 percent of passengers who have been verified by the cruise ship operator as fully vaccinated prior to sailing.'
CDC noted COVID-19 vaccines play a critical role in the safe resumption of passenger operations, but not all cruise lines plan to mandate passenger vaccinations. The agency recommends all port personnel, passengers and crew get a vaccine when one is available to them.
Not possible for cruising to be zero risk
CDC acknowledged it's not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity when it comes to COVID-19.
'While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern,' the agency said.
CDC plans to continue updating its guidance and recommendations to specify basic safety standards and public health interventions 'based on the best scientific evidence available.'