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CDC signals cruise ships can resume sailing in U.S. waters this summer

Cruises to resume in U.S. waters this summer
Cruise ships resume operations in U.S. waters this summer 00:24

The cruise industry's call to be allowed to sail in U.S. waters again has been answered. The ships bearing thousands of vacationing passengers can resume operations so long as the overwhelming majority of those on board are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a letter issued to cruise companies on Wednesday and obtained by CBS News and other outlets, the agency stipulates that cruise ships can run in U.S. waters by mid-summer so long as 95% of customers and 98% of crew are vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The new stance gives cruise lines a way out of a prior requirement that first mandated trial voyages before paying customers could board the ships. 

The CDC also loosened some of its previous testing and quarantine requirements —a major victory for a multi-billion-dollar industry that had been clamoring to be allowed to set sail again from U.S. ports. 

The agency's more accommodating stance follows Alaska last week joining Florida in suing to overturn the CDC mandate prohibiting an immediate resumption in cruise operations. Major cruise lines halted excursions from the U.S. in March of last year, when the CDC issued a "no-sail" edict that continues to bar passenger cruise ships from leaving domestic ports. 

The effective halt to operations has major cruise lines bleeding cash to this day, with Royal Caribbean Cruises reporting a net loss of $1.1 billion in the first quarter. On Thursday, Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain referenced the CDC letter in an earnings call, saying the company now foresees sailing from the U.S. again during the Alaska cruise season, roughly May to September. 

"We believe that this communication really helps us to see a clear and achievable pathway forward to safe and healthy cruising in the near future," Fain stated. 

Assuming details can be worked out with the CDC, "it could be possible to restart cruising by mid-July," Fain said. A restart would not mean an immediate relaunch into full operations, he added.

Cruise ships are often settings for disease outbreaks because of their closed environment and close contact between travelers from many countries, according to the CDC. Cruise lines have long contended with outbreaks of the norovirus, for instance, one of which sickened more than 300 passengers and crew on a Princess Cruises ship in February 2020.

Then the novel coronavirus emerged. From February 3, 2020, to March 13, 2020, there were roughly 200 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among returned cruise travelers from multiple ocean voyages, including Carnival Cruise Lines' Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, according to the CDC. 

The Diamond Princess and Grand Princess had more than 800 total COVID-19 cases, including 10 deaths, the CDC stated last year.

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