The CDC Is Reevaluating Testing for Cruise Ships, Are Changes Coming?


It has been a week since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped the requirement for international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test before flying into the United States, yet no progress has yet been made on a similar stricture being dropped for cruise travelers.

How is cruise travel different, and what options may be available to ease testing requirements for cruise travelers? The CDC has stated that the situation is being reevaluated and changes may soon be forthcoming.

Cruise Travel Is Not Air Travel

In a statement provided to Cruise Hive, the CDC discussed the dramatic differences between cruise travel and air travel, as well as other forms of recreational travel and popular destinations.

“Unlike airplanes and other travel settings, cruise ships are congregate residential settings with high risk of secondary transmission of COVID-19 among passengers and crew,” the statement reads. “Traveling on a cruise ship involves thousands of people living for multiple days (or months for crew) within the same setting, eating, sleeping, and participating in activities together in one location.”

This is certainly true. Travelers are indeed present on a cruise ship for a number of days (or months, in the case of extraordinary world cruises), interacting with one another more frequently and for longer periods than in a more limited setting such as airlines, hotels, resorts, theme parks, sporting events, music concerts, etc.

Cruise Ships at Port Canaveral
Photo Credit: Robert Michaud / Shutterstock

Yet, the statement fails to recognize that cruise ships are also more easily controlled environments, able to quickly isolate and track passengers if symptoms of illness appear, and quickly able to react with enhanced cleaning protocols, activity changes, and other responses as needed.

This is not the case with air travel or other settings, where travelers may be in contact for just a few highly communicable hours, but then move on to far-ranging destinations or much broader activities, where diseases can be spread to much wider communities.

The CDC’s own guidance indicates that exposure to COVID-19 droplets for just a few minutes may result in infection. In this case, any event or activity where guests may be in close quarters for more than a few minutes could be dangerous, not just “congregate residential settings.”

Reacting to Possible Outbreaks a Reason to Continue Testing

The CDC does highlight that a cruise ship’s medical facilities may be unable to cope with an extreme situation.

“Outbreaks on cruise ships can potentially overwhelm onboard medical and public health resources, and it may be difficult for passengers with severe illness to be transported to a shoreside medical facility,” the statement continued.

Because of this, “testing before cruise travel helps to identify passengers who have COVID-19 and prevent those passengers from boarding and infecting others.”

Cruise Testing
Cruise Testing (Photo Credit: Matt Bannister / Shutterstock)

It is true that cruise ship medical facilities are smaller and more limited than hospitals and clinics on land, especially for very severe medical emergencies.

It must be noted, however, that…



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