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CDC Reopening Plan Calls for 1st Cruises to Sail Without Passengers

ATLANTA, Ga. — A new plan from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines a path to reopening the beleaguered cruise ship industry — but don’t expect to be setting sail as a passenger anytime soon.

What You Need To Know

  • CDC announces a plan to reopen the cruise ship industry
  • The phased plan goes into effect November 1 without passengers
  • Operators must demonstrate adherence to protocols spelled out in plan 

A “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order,” published Friday by the federal agency, introduces a “framework for a phased resumption of cruise ship passenger operations.” This coincides with the October 31 expiration of the agency’s “no sail” order that’s been extended multiple times since taking effect in mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic really began to take hold on American shores.

Recreational cruising was one of the earliest and hardest-hit of the national industries; passengers and crews spent months stranded at sea as ports refused to take them in for fear of contagion. Operations have remained at a standstill ever since.

While some river and other cruises have recently resumed in Europe and other parts of the world, Friday’s announcement represents the first movement toward getting ships back out in U.S. waters.

But the CDC is being very, very careful.

According to a CDC release, “Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas provide current evidence that cruise ship travel facilitates and amplifies transmission of COVID-19 — even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities — and would likely spread the disease into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume in the United States without public health oversight.”

That means the first U.S. voyages will leave ports without passengers, as the companies “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.

Additional phases will include simulated voyages using volunteers in the roles of passengers to “test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk,” certification of ships to the meet new pandemic-inspired requirements, and a return to passenger cruises — again, with new, COVID-mandated protocols.

So it could be awhile before those who crave a cruise find themselves actually standing on the deck and waving goodbye. At least things are starting to move in that direction, but they’ll move at a pace set under the watchful eye of the CDC.

“This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in the release. “CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers.”

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