U.S. CDC Calls for Input Before Resumption of North American Cruising

US CDC seeks input to develop protocols for resumption of passengers on cruise ships
Cruise ships idled in Miami earlier this year - courtesy PortMiami

Published Jul 24, 2020 3:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

In what is being seen as potentially a key step for the resumption of cruising in North America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a request for information seeking input to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships. Interested persons or organizations are invited to participate by submitting comments that will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

The questionnaire is broken into a series of categories related to planning and infrastructure and the resumption of passenger operations. The questions explore topics including the methods, strategies, and practices to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Respondents are asked to address steps to bolster cruise lines internal public health programs and how to ensure that internal public health programs are involved in all levels of decision-making processes relating to passenger and crew operations. 

They also seek input on innovations to reduce transmission of COVID-19 on board ships. If a future quarantine or isolation were to be required the CDC asks what mental health services should cruise ship operators provide for both passengers and crew.

The CDC wants to explore the feasibility of conducting COVID-19 diagnostic testing, crew members reporting of potentially mild symptoms of COVID-like illness, and reporting to the CDC. The questions also explore potential quarantines as well as arrangements for travel including possible future crew repatriations. 

The CDC in the past has criticized the cruise industry for having taken up too many resources both at the CDC and in the public health system. Among the topics it is asking for responses is a question, “What measures should cruise ship operators be required to take to reduce the burden on U.S. government resources if foreign seaports deny cruise ships the ability to come into port during a voyage?” They also ask if a company official should be required to accept legal responsibility for failure to implement measures to protect public health.

Exploring the resumption of cruise operations, the CDC questions seek input on a broad range of topics including potential embarkation processes and restrictions, onboard operations, and debarkation protocols. They ask if ships should have limits on their capacities as well as the length of the cruise and even the number of people permitted per cabin. They also ask about limitations on shore excursions. One particularly difficult to implement suggestion is if ships should be required to provide single-occupancy rooms with private bathrooms for crew after resuming passenger operations.

Finally, the CDC asks for comments about the benefits in terms of averted deaths and illnesses and the financial costs of the measures to be implemented. 

While the effort is seen as a positive step to address the issues that have prevented cruise ship operations, several observers noted that the due date is just days before the scheduled end to the CDC’s current no sail order. Released this week, the responses must be received by September 21, 2020. The CDC says that it will review all submissions and carefully consider all comments submitted. They also commit to publishing all the results on a government website, but did not provide a timeline for the release of results.