CDC Says ‘Test Cruises’ Can Start With Volunteer Passengers to Prove They’re Covid Safe

An aerial view from a drone shows Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Sea cruise ship docked at Port Miami on March 2, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

An aerial view from a drone shows Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Sea cruise ship docked at Port Miami on March 2, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

The U.S.-based cruise ship industry will need to prove it can operate safely with test cruises and volunteer passengers before normal operations can begin, the Centers for Disease Control said in a statement on Wednesday. All cruise volunteers will need to be fully vaccinated and must agree to be tested for covid-19 three to five days after their journey.

“Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance for cruise ships to undertake simulated voyages with volunteer passengers as part of its COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application,” the CDC said in a statement.

“With the issuance of these documents, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages.”

The conditions for these test voyages are rather extensive, as you can see from the CDC website. The CDC’s specifications for laboratory tests alone show that the Biden administration isn’t messing around when it comes to letting the cruise industry get back to business. But vaccines may allow things to proceed even faster.

Cruises can skip the “test cruise” phase if 98% of its crew and 95% of passengers have been fully vaccinated, though it’s not immediately clear if any cruise company will attempt to make that happen. Royal Caribbean, which published a blog post about the trials, did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment overnight.

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From the CDC website:

COVD-19 vaccines play a critical role in the safe resumption of passenger operations, but not all cruise ship operators have announced plans to mandate passenger vaccinations. As more people are fully vaccinated and more drug therapeutics are available, the phased approach allowed CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for safe resumption of cruise ship travel. CDC recommends that all port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when a vaccine is available to them.

But the CDC knows there could very well still be covid-19 outbreaks on cruise ships moving into the near future. And the agency said as much in a statement, clearly trying to temper expectations that everything will return to normal immediately.

“CDC acknowledges that it is not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of COVID-19,” the CDC said in its statement on Wednesday.

“While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.”