The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising people to avoid traveling on cruise ships, regardless of vaccination status, due to the high risk of COVID-19 infection onboard ships.
The agency increased its travel warning for cruise ships from a Level 3 to a Level 4, its highest level. The advisory comes as the number of ships under investigation by the CDC for possible COVID-19 outbreaks continue to rise while new cases of infection in the U.S. soar to their highest level on record, with over 265,000 per day on average.
The CDC cautioned that even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19, noting that the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters, making the chances of getting infected on board a cruise ship very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a booster.
"It is especially important that travelers who are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, regardless of vaccination status," the CDC said.
Its updated guidance stresses that those who are not fully vaccinated or boosted should not embark on a cruise trip. Unvaccinated passengers or those who have not received the second dose of a two-shot regimen, like those required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, are now also being asked to self-quarantine for a full five days after cruise travel.
The CDC said Wednesday 88 vessels are now either under investigation or observation, but it did not specify how many COVID-19 cases have been reported. Four other vessels are also being monitored by the CDC as well.
Cruise lines have not announced any plans to halt cruising. And the CDC did not say whether it planned to extend the expiration date of a set of rules that cruises must follow to sail during the pandemic. The regulation, called a conditional sailing order, is scheduled to expire on Jan. 15 to become a voluntary program.
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Most lines require adult passengers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Cruise ships are allowed to relax measures such as mask use if at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew are fully vaccinated.
None of the ships so far appear to have so many cases that they would overwhelm medical resources on board and require a return to port. But some have been denied entry at some foreign ports.
Several Florida-based ships have reported outbreaks. The Carnival Freedom was denied entry to Aruba and Bonaire after an undisclosed number of passengers and crew aboard caught the virus.
Some cruise ships have not been allowed to disembark in Mexican ports due to cases reported, bringing to memory the early days of the pandemic when cruise lines negotiated docking plans as ships were being turned away by officials worried about the virus’s spread.
The Mexican government said Tuesday it would allow cruise ships with reported coronavirus cases to dock. The country's Health Department said passengers or crew who show no symptoms will be allowed to come ashore normally, while those with symptoms or a positive virus test will be quarantined or given medical care.
This is a breaking news update. Please check back for updates.