Recently, on April 28, 2021 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) distributed a letter to the cruise industry in which it notified the industry regarding clarifications and amplifications of the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) (the Letter). The CSO provided guidelines for the resumption of cruises from the United States. Notably, following the Letter, the CDC’s spokesperson stated that passenger voyages from the United States could resume in mid-July depending on pace and compliance with the CSO.

Previously, on April 2, 2021, the CDC had issued the next phase of technical guidance under its CSO. That phase provided technical instructions on:

  • Increasing the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses from weekly to daily .
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.

The Letter followed a month of twice-weekly meetings with cruise industry representatives where the industry and the CDC discussed the CSO. In the Letter, the CDC issued five clarifications to its April 2 guidance, which was issued to permit a resumption of sailing:

  • Ships can bypass required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
  • CDC will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within five days, a review previously expected to take 60 days.
  • CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people.
  • CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a “multi-port agreement” if a nearby port is able to supplement medical capabilities or housing capacity that may be limited at certain ports, rather than enter into a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement.
  • The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19.

In a subsequent statement about the Letter, the CDC’s spokesperson, stated that passenger voyages from the United States could resume in mid-July depending on pace and compliance with the CSO.

This Letter follows a lawsuit brought by Florida against the CDC, which was joined by Alaska, seeking to overturn the restrictions on cruises, and new legislation proposed by Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan which seeks to remove the CDC’s restrictions on cruising. In its lawsuit against the CDC, Florida recently asked a Tampa federal district court for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the CDC’s restrictions. As a result, pressure has been building on the CDC to update its reopening plans for the cruise industry.

[1] The CDC has established a color-coded system for cruise ships during the initial phases of the CSO. Based on the CDC’s criteria, a ship can either be classified as “red”, “yellow”, “orange”, or “green”. This color status is based, in general, on whether the ship has a closer proximity to a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case, and whether land-based crew has or has not quarantined for 14 days upon embarking the ship. The color status of ships is also contingent upon daily submission of an Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) form during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the failure to submit the EDC form can affect the color status of the ship. The color status assigned to the ship determines the preventive measures that the ship must take under the CSO. For example, “red” ships cannot utilize commercial transportation for crew transfers and repatriation.