Travelers embarking on a cruise that travels through the US will have to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) COVID-19 protocols until at least January 15, 2022, under a temporary extension of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) for cruise ships.

Speaking to USA Today, the head of the CDC’s maritime unit, Capt. Aimee Treffiletti, said the agency made the decision "in the best interest of public health."

Ferries travelling on a river towards Lake Michigan with the Chicago skyline
The rules are intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 ©elesi/Shutterstock

"The pandemic isn't over. We've seen what the delta variant can do," Treffiletti said. "Despite, you know, really what have been the best efforts of the cruise industry to provide a safer and healthier environment for crew, passengers and communities, COVID-19 has still been a challenge, particularly with the delta variant."

The order applies to cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to US jurisdiction. As per the rules, laboratory testing onboard cruise ships in US waters will see crew members being tested for COVID-19 each week and they will be provided with personal protection equipment. Other conditions include that travelers will have to undergo testing when arriving and departing the ship. Written agreements with ports will need to be arranged to approve housing for passengers or crew who need to quarantine or passengers who need to be evacuated to hospital.

Once cruise ships operators meet the conditions, they receive approved COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate applications and are permitted to sail with passengers.

"Since the issuance of the CSO on October 30, 2020, cruise lines, with CDC assistance, have developed and implemented strong health and safety protocols to manage COVID-19 and resumed passenger operations," the CDC said on Monday.

Once the extension expires on January 15, the CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program that will allow cruise ship operators to "detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships". More details on the program will be announced soon. Further information on the Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships can be found on the CDC's website.

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This article was first published Jul 21, 2020 and updated Oct 26, 2021.

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