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CDC ends COVID-19 program for cruise ships

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(WASHINGTON) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has axed a program that allowed the public to view COVID-19 levels on cruise ships that sail in U.S. waters.

The CDC announced Monday it would do away with the program, saying it “determined that the cruise industry has access to the necessary tools (e.g., cruise-specific recommendations and guidance, vaccinations, testing instruments, treatment modalities and non-pharmaceutical interventions) to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 on board.”

The move comes as the BA.5 omicron subvariant spreads across the United States. The variant is now estimated to make up more than 78% of new cases, according to the CDC.

The pandemic-era policy designated ships with a color-coding system based on testing and vaccination rates, allowing the public to monitor the spread of the virus on ships. The CDC said the system was removed because it “depended upon each cruise line having the same COVID-19 screening testing standards, which may now vary among cruise lines.”

The CDC said it will continue to publish guidance for cruise ships to mitigate and manage COVID-19 transmission. It also said each cruise will “determine their own specific COVID-19 related requirements for cruise travel, as well as safety measures and protocols for passengers traveling on board.”

“It’s still too early to tell exactly what it means for cruisers, as the cruise lines now need to figure out what their guidelines will be,” Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of the Cruise Critic, told ABC News. “The CDC’s previous order did cover a wide variety of requirements, including pre-cruise testing, vaccine requirements, masking guidelines and quarantine requirements. Now that this is all back at the cruise line level.”

Currently, coronavirus protocols vary among cruise lines and also depend on local mandates where ships sail.

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers 12 and older to present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with the final dose administered at least 14 days before sailing.

Carnival Cruise Line offers vaccinated cruises, allowing guests who have received their final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to the sailing day (not counting embarkation day) and have proof of vaccination. Carnival does provide some exceptions for unvaccinated guests ages 5 and older, requiring those passengers to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test, taken within 72 and 24 hours prior to the sailing date at check-in.

Norwegian Cruise Line requires all guests age 12 and over to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure in order to board.

If passengers want to find out about outbreaks on ships, the CDC advises they reach out to the cruise line directly.

“It’s really important to stay up to date on what your cruise line requires. Read those emails that the cruise lines send you because things could be changing. If you have a travel agent, check in with them,” Faust said.

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