A podium with the logo for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center in Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 5, 2014. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on Feb. 9, encouraging cruise ships operating in U.S. waters to choose to participate in a COVID-19 color-coding program to help passengers make an “informed decision” before traveling.
The program would give each ship a color status indicating the percentage of those on board who are vaccinated.
Cruise ships have until Feb. 18 to confirm that they are opting into the program.
“CDC’s color-coding system gives travelers information they can use to make informed decisions before choosing to travel,” the CDC stated. “Color status designations indicate the number of COVID-19 cases reported for each ship in the program, whether an investigation is needed, additional public health measures a ship is taking, and whether a ship has opted out of the program.”
Under the program, cruise ships that are participating and have at least 95 percent of those on board “up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines” will receive a “vaccination standard of excellence.”
Ships with less than 95 percent of fully vaccinated passengers and crew members will be classified as “not highly vaccinated.”
Those ships with at least 95 percent passengers and 95 percent crew who are fully vaccinated but less than 95 percent of passengers and 95 percent of crew are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines will be classified as “highly vaccinated.”
The new program still requires passengers and crew members to undergo a COVID-19 test before embarking, the CDC said.
Between now and Feb. 18, cruise ships will continue to be assigned a red, orange, yellow, or green color status unless they inform CDC they are choosing not to participate in the program.
Green means there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness on board, yellow means there have been cases of COVID-19 reported on board that are below the threshold for CDC investigation, and orange means there have been cases of the SARS-CoV-2 virus reported on board that do meet the threshold for such an investigation by the CDC.
If a ship has been assigned a red status, the number of reported COVID cases on board are at or above the threshold for such an investigation and additional public health measures are in place.
In this instance, the CDC may require ships to test all passengers before, during, or after the voyage, regardless of their vaccination status, and require them to wear masks both indoors and outdoors in crowded areas, among other things.
Any cruise line ships in U.S. water opting not to participate in the program will be designated as “gray,” indicating that they may have their own COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place aboard but that the CDC cannot review or confirm such health measures.
For passengers considering embarking on cruise ships with a “gray” color status, the CDC emphasizes that the agency does not have information about what precautions and interventions they have implemented against COVID.
“Therefore, CDC does not have information about precautions and interventions, such as mask use, crew testing, or vaccination status of travelers for these ships,” the updated guidance states.
The status will be listed on the CDC’s Cruise Ship Color Status webpage.
The health agency currently recommends that everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, avoid travel on cruise ships due to the high rates of transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In January, the CDC dropped its mandatory COVID-19 protocols for cruise lines, which had been issued in late October 2021, and shifted to a voluntary program instead, allowing cruise lines discretion in applying such protocols.
The new program for cruise ships comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline in the United States.
As of Feb. 9, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases in the country (215,418) decreased 42.8 percent compared with the previous 7-day moving average (376,855), according to CDC data.