Ship sail

CDC ends COVID cruise rules as Carnival ship departs SC

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The Carnival Sunshine left Charleston on Thursday, making it the first time a major cruise ship has left SC since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Andy Newman

PA

On Thursday, just hours after the first major cruise ship to leave South Carolina since the pandemic began left Charleston, the CDC announced that its strict health and safety requirements for cruises would become recommendations non-binding from Saturday. And during its first day at sea, the ship has already reported at least one case of COVID on board.

The change from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes just over two weeks after the agency recommended against cruise travel of any kind as the omicron variant COVID-19 spreads across the country. country. For at least the past week, nearly every major U.S. cruise ship had a COVID case, according to the CDC’s online case tracker.

By Friday afternoon, the Carnival Sunshine ship that had left Charleston on Thursday had reached the ‘Yellow’ threshold for CDC investigation, meaning at least 0.1% of passengers tested positive for COVID, according to CDC case tracking. However, reaching the yellow threshold means there are only seven cold cases on a ship with 6,500 guests or if only one crew member is positive.

The Carnival Sunshine is currently on a four-day cruise to Nassau, Bahamas.

“We’ve been sailing from Charleston for 12 years, so we’re thrilled to be back to provide guests throughout the Southeast United States the opportunity to cruise from this beautiful, historic and charming community, while supporting the ‘local economy,'” Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy said in a press release Thursday.

When the CDC began allowing cruise ships to sail last year, it did so under a “conditional sailing order,” which listed a host of mandatory guidelines cruises had to meet before sailing. be allowed to navigate again.

Here are some of the rules that have been put in place:

  • Require vaccination of more than 95% of passengers and crew
  • Pre-boarding tests for passengers and regular tests for crew
  • Wearing a mask indoors unless eating or drinking

On Saturday, these mandatory health and safety rules become voluntary when the conditional sailing order expires.

The CDC said going on a cruise right now poses an exceptional risk to travelers and has put in place a level 4 travel health advisory, indicating a “very high risk of COVID-19.” The CDC also recommends getting tested one to three days before a cruise trip and three to five days after, regardless of vaccines or symptoms.

According to the CDC, 14,803 cases of COVID were reported on cruise ships between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. This is nearly 100 times the number of cases reported in the first half of December.

However, even when the rules end, the CDC will still have some authority over cruise ships.

Cruise lines, including Carnival, will still need to report cases of COVID on board. The ships are also subject to the public transport mandate which lasts until March, which means that passengers will have to wear a mask whenever they are inside and do not eat or drink.

The plan to let health and safety requirements for cruise ships become voluntary has been in place since the middle of last fall, but that was before the discovery of the omicron variant.

The Cruise Lines International Association said in a statement that the CDC’s decision to allow companies to make their own decision regarding the health and safety of COVID-19 reflects “the industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels the highest COVID-19 mitigations found in any industry.”

“When cases are identified due to the high frequency of onboard testing, cruise ship protocols help maximize onboard containment with rapid response procedures designed to protect all other guests and crew as well as the communities you ships visit,” the industry group said in its statement. “CLIA ocean cruise line members will continue to be guided by science and the principle of putting people first, with proven measures that are adapted as conditions to protect the health of cruise passengers, members of crew and destinations.”

This story was originally published January 14, 2022 3:40 p.m.

Chase Karacostas writes about tourism in Myrtle Beach and throughout South Carolina for McClatchy. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020 with degrees in journalism and political communication. He started working for McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he was signed to three of the state’s largest print media outlets as well as the Texas Tribune covering state politics, environment, housing and the LGBTQ+ community.