CDC relaxes cruise guidelines, lines lift mask mandates

Cruise lines will lift their mask mandates as they shift to a series of relaxed regulations under the CDC’s voluntary Covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships operating in U.S. waters.

Fully-vaccinated passengers on Carnival Corp. brands, including Carnival, Princess and Holland America; Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings brands; and Royal Caribbean International will not be required to wear masks indoors, the lines said this month. Celebrity Cruises stopped requiring masks inside earlier this month. 

Every major cruise line enrolled its ships, 110 in all, in the updated CDC program, which replaced the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order that expired Jan. 15.

The CDC relaxed some of the program’s regulations just before the deadline for lines to decide whether or not to opt in. They include no longer requiring ships to factor unvaccinated children under 5 years into its overall vaccination rate, reducing quarantine and isolation time and lowering the vaccination level to allow unmasking. 

Another change allows passengers up to date on vaccinations to undergo pre-embarkation testing three days before boarding instead of two.

“The updated instructions move closer to recognizing the cruise industry’s leadership in effectively mitigating Covid-19, as well as acknowledging ongoing improvements in the health environment,” said Laziza Lambert, a spokeswoman for CLIA.

The CDC had created a higher tier for Covid-19 vaccination known as “standard of excellence,” which requires at least 95% of guests and 95% of the crew to be vaccinated and boosted, if eligible. The CDC has retained a “highly vaccinated” tier requiring 95% of guests and 95% of the crew to be vaccinated. 

The optional program originally required ships to maintain the “standard of excellence” vaccination level to remove its mask mandate. The CDC quietly relaxed that requirement, allowing cruise ships that are “highly vaccinated” to set their own mask requirements.

The regulation that exempts children under 5 years from the total calculation of vaccinated guests will enable cruise lines, especially those that cater to families, more wiggle room to allow families with young children to sail.

The brands of Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Group all opted into the program, while Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings reconfirmed its Jan. 14 decision to participate.

Other brands that joined include Azamara, Disney Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, SeaDream, Viking Cruises and Virgin Voyages.

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