By Dave Sebastian 
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is extending its oversight of the cruise industry through early next year due to the Delta variant while paving the way for voluntary measures to control the spread of Covid-19 aboard cruise ships.

The CDC on Monday said it is prolonging its conditional-sail order to Jan. 15, 2022, for vessels operating in U.S. waters with the capacity to carry at least 250 people and with itineraries involving an overnight or 24-hour stay onboard. The framework has been in effect since late October 2020 and was set to expire in early November.

After the extension's expiration, the CDC said it will transition to a voluntary program that includes measures to detect and mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Covid-19 cases have been reported on cruise ships since they restarted U.S. sailings in late June, even on those with a mostly vaccinated population. In August, Carnival Cruise Line reported the death of a passenger due to Covid-19. The passenger was among 27 people who tested positive for Covid-19 on the ship, which departed from Texas.

The cruise industry restarted sailings after more than a year of hiatus while acknowledging that their trips aren't going to be Covid-free, and so is the CDC's understanding, said Aimee Treffiletti, the CDC's maritime unit lead and a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. She said most of the onboard cases reported to the CDC have been mostly asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

"Even though we have seen Covid on ships, it hasn't been to a level that has overwhelmed the medical resources onboard," Capt. Treffiletti said in an interview.

The CDC on Monday didn't provide the number of Covid-19 cases or deaths reported onboard cruis ships.

The extension of the cruising guidelines involves some modifications to those currently in place and is based on feedback from the cruise industry. For example, the CDC is eliminating the requirement for cruise companies to include any CDC travel advisory, warning or recommendation related to cruise travel in marketing materials. That change was a direct request from the cruise industry, Capt. Treffiletti said.

"We've developed a really good working relationship with the cruise industry," she said. "It's a very collaborative relationship at this point."

The CDC categorizes cruise-ship travel under level 3 of its travel health notice, meaning that the activity involves a "high level of Covid-19."

The cruising restart hadn't been all that smooth. The industry pushed back against the CDC's earlier guidelines, with the agency later detailing some of its expectations, including the path to obtaining the green light to resume sailings.

The update also provides more options for cruises to resume with fewer than 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, the CDC said. Under the current framework, cruise lines are required to conduct mock voyages before they proceed to revenue-generating sailings. If they want to skip the simulated voyages, they would need to attest that 95% of people have been fully vaccinated.

The extended guidelines also provide procedures in place of mock voyages for ships operating with fewer than 95% of people fully vaccinated. They also provide an option for ship operators repositioning to U.S. waters that intend to operate with less than a 95% vaccination rate to fulfill modified simulated-voyage requirements instead of the full mock sailing, the CDC said.

 

Write to Dave Sebastian at dave.sebastian@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 25, 2021 15:27 ET (19:27 GMT)

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