After five months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released its long-awaited technical guidelines for cruise ships to sail again in the United States. They are available to view here.
The seven pages of regulations were released on Friday afternoon, April 2, and represent a pathway for cruise lines to operate again in the United States, although with significant logistical hurdles “designed to minimize the burden to the greatest extent possible on Federal, State, and Local government resources.”
In short, the CDC is asking cruise lines to demonstrate they can handle a COVID-19 incident themselves, from a quarantine, healthcare and transportation standpoint.
One problem: the CDC did not mention a date of when ships could sail, or begin trial voyages.
- The CDC recommended in its regulations that all port personnel, and travelers (passengers and crew) receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
- A cruise ship operator must document the approval of all U.S. port and local health authorities where the ship intends to dock or make port during one or more simulated voyages or restricted passenger voyages as a condition of receiving or retaining controlled free pratique for conducting one or more simulated voyages or receiving and retaining a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate.
- The agreement must include a port operations component (including a vaccination component), a medical care plan component, and a housing component meeting the requirements.
- The CDC will require a presentation of proposals regarding how the cruise ship operator intends to incorporate vaccination strategies to maximally protect passengers and crew from introduction, amplification, and spread of COVID-19 in the maritime environment and land-based communities.
- The CDC is requiring significant embarkation screening and onboard protocols, including medical evacuation at sea for COVID-19 reasons. Protocols must rely on commercial resources (e.g., ship tender, chartered standby vessel, chartered airlift) for unavoidable medical evacuation at sea and be designed to minimize the burden to the greatest extent possible on Federal, State, and Local government resources, including U.S. Coast Guard resources. All medical evacuations at sea must be coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard.
- The regulations also require significant disembarkation protocols should there be an outbreak.
- A cruise ship operator’s agreement with all U.S. port and local health authorities where the ship intends to dock or make port during one or more simulated voyages or restricted passenger voyages must incorporate medical care agreements between the cruise ship operator and health care entities, addressing evacuation and medical transport to onshore hospitals for passengers or crew in need of care, in accordance with CDC technical instructions and orders.
- Cruise lines must also consider the potential medical care needs of travelers including the capacity of local public health, port authority, hospital, and other emergency response personnel to respond to an onboard outbreak of COVID-19. Cruise lines must explain the factors relied upon by all parties in determining the capacity of the cruise ship operator’s contractual shoreside medical facilities or healthcare systems
- The agreement must consider where the ship will be physically located during the isolation and quarantine period (i.e., at the pier or at anchor). The parties to the agreement must jointly consider the potential housing needs of travelers including the capacity of local public health, port authorities, hospital, and other emergency response personnel to oversee and monitor the housing needs of travelers under isolation and quarantine. The agreement must briefly explain the factors relied upon by all parties in determining the sufficiency of the cruise ship operator’s contractual or corporate-owned shoreside housing facilities.
- Any shoreside housing must meet CDC guidelines.