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CDC extends conditional sailing order to Jan. 15, then it's planned to become voluntary (*updated*)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is extending its conditional sailing order to Jan. 15, with minor modifications.

After that, the agency intends to transition the CSO into a voluntary program 'in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate and control the spread of COVID-19 on board cruise ships.'

No new burdens or obligations

In announcing the plan for the extended CSO on Monday, the agency said: 'CDC does not view this temporary extension as imposing any new burdens or obligations on cruise ship operators when compared to the previous CSO.'

Cruise Lines International Association said the CSO changes show the Biden administration and CDC 'recognize the cruise industry’s successful resumption of operations,' adding: 'We look forward to demonstrating the industry’s continued leadership in this final phase of the CSO, and to carrying out a smooth transition when the order comes to an end' on Jan. 15.

'We've come a long way'

All of this 'bodes well for the cruise industry but also for the working relationship between the CDC and the cruise industry,' an operations expert told Seatrade Cruise News.

'We've come a long way from the time when the CDC and the cruise lines weren't even talking to each other ... It seems like the cruise industry is fully versed in what the CDC is looking for and implementing the measures effectively.'

Many ships resumed passenger operations during the rise of the Delta variant, the expert noted, and while there have been cases on board, the CDC appears to be comfortable that the right controls are in place.

'These procedures are also very important to making sure the public feels comfortable cruising,' the operations source said, noting that's the case since occupancy levels are rising.

1,359 confirmed COVID cases June 26-Oct. 21

The CDC said there's continued need for public health management to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships. Even with high vaccination rates among crew and passengers, between June 26 and Oct. 21, 1,359 laboratory-confirmed cases were reported to the agency by cruise ships following the CSO. 

Transition to fewer than 95% vaccinated passengers

One change in the extended order is that ships operating with 95% of crew and passengers fully vaccinated may transition to fewer than 95% vaccinated passengers without first conducting a simulated voyage, with several provisions.

They must have a 60-day transition period with the 95% level and continue to have 95% of crew fully vaccinated. They'll also need to incorporate additional mask use, distancing and other measures. They additionally must have procedures for notifying passengers who booked a 95% vaccinated cruise that their sailing will no longer operate as such.

Ships that have been sailing outside US waters and intend to transition to operating with fewer than 95% vaccinated passengers will need to follow these same procedures but also must conduct one simulation of embarkation screening and testing at the terminal they intend to use in the US —  unless the ship will be operating from a terminal already in use by other vessels of the same cruise line.

No requirement to list travel advisory in marketing

In another change, it will no longer be required to include any CDC travel advisory, warning or recommendation relating to cruise travel in marketing materials.

The current CSO is due to expire Oct. 30; its requirements remain in effect until then. The extension, with its modifications, becomes effective Nov. 1.

The update adds CLIA's reaction.