The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an update for its Conditional Sailing Order. The CSO forms the basis for a phased approach for the safe and responsible resumption of passenger cruises.
On March 14, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a No Sail Order that suspended cruise ship passenger operations in the United States. Following the No Sail Order the CDC invited public comments on specific questions regarding interventions, methods, protocols, and procedures for protecting the public’s health as well as the health of prospective passengers, crew members, and industry-related service providers.
Following these comments the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) that introduced a phased approach for the safe and responsible resumption of passenger cruises. The CSO stated that during the initial phases, cruise ship operators must demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers. Subsequent phases will include simulated (mock) voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members and communities.
Framework for Conditional Sailing Order: the next phase
The CDC has issued the next phase of technical guidance under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order requiring cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate, implement routine testing of crew, and develop plans incorporating vaccination strategies to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 by crew and passengers.
For the next phase COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations. As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so. CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them.
This phase, the second of the CSO issued in October 2020, provides technical instructions on:
- Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.
- Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status.
- Updating the color-coding system used to classify ships’ status with respect to COVID-19.
- Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols, and daily reporting.
- Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include healthcare capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed.
- Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel.
Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure 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 next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.