According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cruise ships under investigation with COVID-19 outbreaks has risen to 86 on Tuesday, up from 68 a day earlier.
The CDC is currently investigating 38 ships, with 48 additional vessels having already undergone investigation but remaining “under observation.” Another 22 ships haven’t reported any cases. Three ships reported COVID-19 cases below the investigation threshold.
The most affected cruise ships belong to Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Norwegian.
“While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC is committed to working with cruise ship operators to ensure that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission among crew members, passengers, and port personnel,” the CDC stated on its website.
The CDC’s investigation threshold for restricted voyages is 0.10 percent or more of reported COVID-19 cases in passengers or one or more cases reported in the crew. A restricted voyage is a cruise with a CDC-issued Conditional Sailing Certificate and paying passengers.
In late October 2020, after shutting down all cruises for seven months, the CDC issued the Conditional Sail Order, which imposes a series of strict conditions that cruise lines must meet to resume operations.
The order requires 95 percent of passengers and nearly all crew to be vaccinated, in combination with testing, mask-wearing, sanitation, and more.
However, a growing number of cruise ships have reported COVID-19 outbreaks during the past few weeks, despite the extremely high vaccination rate. Some cruises have been denied disembarking passengers and some have been forced to alter stops.
A spokesperson from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, told The Epoch Times via email that “health and safety is the cruise industry’s highest priority.”
“In fact, the latest data show that cases have occurred less frequently on cruise ships than on land, with a greater proportion of asymptomatic or mild cases. This is due to the cruise industry’s robust protocols, including extremely high rates of vaccination—far higher than the general population,” the spokesperson stated.
It’s unclear whether these outbreaks are caused by the newest variant Omicron. The CDC hasn’t responded to a request for comment. The Epoch Times has also contacted Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Last week, Royal Caribbean said 48 passengers tested positive for the Omicron variant on one of its ships.
Notably, the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order and accompanying measures are not binding for cruise ships coming in or departing from Florida from July 23. On that day, a federal appeals court decided to lift the COVID-19 restrictions on cruise ships in Florida. Florida sued the Biden administration in April over CDC’s prolonged shut down of cruise business.
CDC has extended the order till Jan. 15, 2022, and intends to transition the requirements to be voluntary afterward.
The CDC estimated that Omicron made up 58.6 percent of sequenced COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday. Recent studies have signaled that the new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus strain causes milder symptoms and has resulted in far fewer hospitalizations worldwide.
Jack Phillips and Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.