November 23 ------ The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has elevated its assessment of the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships to its highest category, and it is cautioning potential passengers to avoid cruising. "CDC recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high. It is especially important that people with an increased risk of severe illness avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises," the agency warned in an updated advisory on Saturday. "Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships." CDC has appended a Level 4 ("very high level of COVID-19") warning to the advisory.
CDC remains concerned about onboard outbreaks of a disease that infected passengers then carry home to their families and communities after the voyage has ended. Passengers who do decided to go on a cruise should get tested about 3-5 days after their return and remain quarantined for at least seven days, no matter the result; those who do not get tested should quarantine for 14 days. The notice appeared two weeks after the COVID outbreak aboard the small cruise ship SeaDream I in the Caribbean. Four days into her first post-pandemic cruise, a passenger aboard SeaDream I reported feeling unwell, and the individual tested positive. Passengers and non-essential crew were asked to quarantine in their cabins, and the vessel suspended her itinerary and returned to her home port in Barbados. Local public health authorities conducted another round of results, turning up a total of seven positive cases out of the 119 people on board.
SeaDream required multiple negative PCR tests before the guests boarded, but the firm said it was not enough to prevent the introduction of COVID-19. The cruise ship's passengers had been required to have a negative test before leaving home to fly to Barbados and a second negative test administered by the cruise line on the pier before boarding. Once aboard, passengers said, they were not initially required to wear masks. The outbreak prompted two members of Congress to call on CDC to reinstate its no-sail order for cruise ships. “In light of these disturbing reports, we feel strongly that you should reverse course on the recent decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take a phased approach to restarting cruise line operations in the United States,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in the letter to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “Unfortunately, this troubling development is not surprising and reaffirms the need to exercise extreme caution before sending passengers and crew back out to sea on cruises.”