Cruise ships that have been docked for more than a year could restart sailing in United States waters by mid-July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a letter sent to the cruise industry late on Wednesday.
After several meetings with cruise lines, the C.D.C. clarified several requirements in its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which outlined the steps that cruise companies had to follow to resume operations in U.S. waters. The agency said it will let the companies skip test voyages if they attest that 98 percent of the crew and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated.
Previously, the agency required cruise lines to give 30 days notice before starting a test cruise and to apply for a conditional sailing certificate 60 days before a planned regular voyage. The Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, called the guidelines “burdensome” and “ambiguous” and asked the C.D.C. to factor in how quickly Americans are being vaccinated.
The C.D.C. said on Wednesday that it would review and respond to applications for simulated voyages within five days, “putting cruise ships closer to open water sailing sooner.”
The agency also eased its pre-sailing testing requirements for fully vaccinated passengers and crew, allowing them to take a simple viral test instead of a PCR test, which takes longer to yield results.
“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the Conditional Sailing Order’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of Covid-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” the C.D.C. said in a statement on Thursday.
“We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines,” it went on.
Cruise companies did not immediately comment on the C.D.C.’s updated guidelines as many were still reviewing the letter.
Florida is the biggest state for cruise operations and it had sued the C.D.C. to force it to restart sailings. But the state has passed legislation mandating that companies that do business with the state or get state subsidies cannot require people to be vaccinated for admission or service. That could make it difficult for cruise lines to guarantee that they have met the vaccination rates set in the C.D.C.’s new letter.
The cruise news site Cruise Critic asked its readers last week whether they would book a cruise if the C.D.C. allowed U.S. sailings to start this summer. Out of more than 600 respondents, 64 percent said they would book a cruise in 2021, while 27 percent said they would wait until 2022.