CDC upgrades cruise ship COVID-19 infection risk to highest level possible

Bianca Padró Ocasio
Miami Herald

Miami – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded the cruise ship travel risk to a level 4, the federal agency’s highest risk level possible for contracting COVID-19.

Amid reports of widespread outbreaks in cruises earlier this year, CDC recommends for travelers to avoid cruise ships, including river cruises, around the world, given the “very high” risk of becoming infected or spreading the novel coronavirus.

If passengers decide to go on cruises, they should get tested three to five days after the trip. Even if they test negative after a trip, cruise ship travelers should stay home for seven days after the trip.

This Aug. 5, 2020 file photo shows the cruise ship SeaDream 1 in Bodoe, Norway.

The advisory comes nearly a month after the CDC lifted its cruise ban, following heavy lobbying from the industry group Cruise Lines International Association to let ships sail again. The Oct. 30 sail order, however, lists conditions to allow cruise ships to resume their operations, including testing requirements and written agreements with medical facilities on land.

U.S. cruises are most likely to resume from South Florida since the $7-billion industry was forced to halt all operations on March 13. PortMiami is the world’s busiest cruise port; South Florida is also home to headquarter offices of the cruise industry’s largest companies, which collectively employ more than 10,000 workers.

But so far, several major cruise lines have canceled trips until 2021, including three Carnival Corp. Cruise lines. For others, like Princess Cruise, all trips are canceled through November 2021. Royal Caribbean International announced earlier this month it was suspending all ships at least through Dec. 31, 2020.

And the first cruise company to operate in the Caribbean since the pandemic began, SeaDream, shut down all its cruises after announcing last week that seven passengers and two crew members had tested positive for COVID-19.

No government or independent agency is publicly tracking infections linked to cruise ships. But according to a comprehensive Miami Herald analysis, nearly 4,000 people contracted COVID-19 after boarding an ocean cruise ship. At least 111 people died as a result of the respiratory virus.

The industry as a whole has also struggled to repatriate all crew members aboard, leaving thousands of workers stranded at sea for months without pay after the industry shut down in March. At least 29 of them died from the virus, a Miami Herald investigation shows. Dozens more have still not made it back home.

The toll of the ban has left thousands of people linked to South Florida’s ports unemployed for months, many receiving, at most, $275 per week in unemployment assistance.