The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t being vague about it and is outright telling travelers to avoid cruise ship travel at a time when COVID-19 cases are breaking records. And that advice goes for everyone, even those who are fully vaccinated and received their booster shot. “Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the CDC said on Thursday as it increased the travel risk level for cruises from Level 3 to Level 4. “The chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high,” the CDC said.
The agency increased the risk level for cruise travel amid a huge surge of COVID-19 cases on ships. Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 14 cruise ships in U.S. waters reported 162 cases of COVID-19, a number that soared to 5,013 between Dec. 15 and Dec. 29. “Since the identification of the omicron variant, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise passengers and crew reported to CDC. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation,” the agency said. As of Thursday, the CDC said it was investigating or observing 91 cruise ships that had COVID-19 outbreaks on board.
Some have said that the rapid increase in cases means that cruises need to stop operating for now. “Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause—docking their ships,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on Twitter. “Cruises are repeating recent history as petri dishes of COVID infection.” But the cruise industry is pushing back, calling the latest CDC advisory “perplexing” despite the increase in cases. “No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruises provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” the Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement.
Those who decide to get on a cruise ship anyway should be vaccinated and tested both before and after their trip, the CDC said. Those who aren’t vaccinated should quarantine for five days after getting off the ship. Most cruise lines already require most passengers and crew members to be vaccinated.