The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday ended its tiered warning system for COVID-19 on cruise ships.
The system had been in place for the past two years and served to warn about the risk of contracting COVID-19 while on a cruise.
Removing the warning system doesn’t mean there is no risk, but it is part of the administration’s push toward moving past the emergency phase of the pandemic and into a “new normal.”
“While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings,” the CDC said in a statement to The Hill.
In the final update earlier in March, the agency lowered its warning from “high” to “moderate.” At that level, the agency recommended that unvaccinated people who were at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 avoid cruise ship travel.
During the height of the omicron surge this winter, the CDC increased its warning to the highest level following investigations of ships that had COVID-19 outbreaks.
The agency on Wednesday said cruise ship travelers should still make sure they are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines before cruise ship travel and follow their cruise ship’s requirements and recommendations.
The agency will continue to publish a color-coded rating for conditions on some ships that opt into a tracking system, based on the percentage of passengers who are vaccinated and the number of coronavirus cases reported on board.
Cruise ships became a key focus during the pandemic, as some ships reported large outbreaks while at sea.
Most ships currently require passengers to be vaccinated and provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding, but even so, ships are still reporting infected passengers.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships,” the CDC said in its updated advisory. “If the virus is spreading on board a cruise ship, passengers and crew are at risk for infection, even if they are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.”
The move was applauded by the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s largest trade group.
Removing the travel health notice “recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020,” the group said.