February 27, 2022

Nearly Every Major Cruise Line Is Dropping Its Mask Mandate

With Covid-19 cases plummeting around the country, the last few weeks have seen a tidal wave of cruise lines dropping mask mandates. Each of the three largest cruise operators — Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines — has either already stopped requiring that facial coverings be worn in most indoor settings or will do so beginning next month. The same goes for all of their subsidiary lines, like Carnival-owned Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean satellite Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian’s sister brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Virgin Voyages is also dropping its mask requirement.

Two other key players, MSC Cruises and family-focused Disney Cruise Line, have yet to announce that they are dropping the indoor mask requirement.

While mask mandates are on the way out on many cruise ships, the new goal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that the vast majority of passengers and crews will be not only fully vaccinated but boosted as well. So far, that appears to be a goal too far.

Last week, the CDC ratcheted down the travel health notice for cruising from a Level 4 “very high risk” to a Level 3 “high risk,” citing a lower number of Covid-19 cases reported on vessels recently.

But there was a key caveat. The agency told cruisers to make sure they are “up to date” on their vaccinations, which means booster shots for all who are eligible. The CDC also continued its recommendation that people who have not received a booster shot should avoid cruising.

The CDC’s new voluntary Covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters has an updated ship-rating system that now takes booster shots into consideration. There are three tiers regarding a ship’s level of vaccination. “Not highly vaccinated” ships have less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated. “Highly vaccinated” ships have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated, but have less than that percentage “up to date” with booster shots when applicable. The top tier, “Vaccination Standard of Excellence,” is reserved for ships have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated and boosted when applicable.

While the program is technically voluntary for cruise ships, opting out would mean getting a “gray status” designation, indicating the CDC cannot confirm the ship's Covid-19 public health measures. Consequently, 110 ships have opted into the program and none have opted out, according to the CDC’s dashboard.

Notably, virtually all ships are categorized as “highly vaccinated” and none meet the top tier criteria of more than 95% of passengers and crew not only fully vaccinated but also boosted.

As of today, less than half of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot, according to CDC data.

Copyright 2022 Forbes Media LLC. All rights reserved. From https://www.forbes.com. By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher.

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