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CDC lowers cruise warning to Level 3, 'high risk'

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered its warning about cruise travel to Level 3, or 'high risk.'

This is a step down from the Level 4 'very high risk' warning CDC instituted Dec. 30 in response to increased COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. Back then, the agency also advised Americans against cruising, regardless of their vaccination status.

Urges vaccination

CDC on Tuesday advised Americans to be up to date with their COVID vaccines before cruise ship travel.

'Getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself from severe disease, slow the spread of COVID-19, and reduce the number of new variants,' the agency said. It added that this travel health notice represents the status of the pandemic at this time and said: 'For travelers booking cruise travel now, be aware that the level may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and may be different by the time of your cruise.'

Continues to recommend testing and masks

CDC also advised travelers to get tested 'as close to the time of cruise departure as possible,' no more than three days before traveling. And the agency advised wearing a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

Recently, a few cruise operators — like Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (all effective March 1), Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises — have eased mask mandates. CDC noted it is 'exercising its enforcement discretion' under its mask order to not require a mask under certain circumstances on cruise ships.

CLIA welcomes downgraded warning

Not surprisingly, the cruise industry welcomed CDC's downgraded warning.

Cruise Lines International Association called it 'a step in the right direction,' adding that CDC's decision 'recognizes the leadership and effectiveness of the cruise sector’s health and safety protocols that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.'

CLIA said: 'Cruise ships  have medical, isolation and quarantine facilities on site, implement extensive response plans using private shoreside resources, and have created an environment where almost every single person is fully vaccinated. As a result, cases of COVID-19 are very low with the vast majority mild or asymptomatic' and asserted cruising is 'unequaled in its multi-layered approach to effectively mitigating COVID-19.'