The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is investigating or observing 86 cruise ships with reported Covid-19 outbreaks on board as the pandemic is reaching a new peak in the United States with record numbers of infections.
In addition to having already investigated 48 vessels, the agency has started investigating 38 ships, which according to its update, remain “under observation”.
Cruises leaving ports across the US resumed in June after being halted for over a year due to the pandemic. The agency regards cruise ships as hubs of contagion, especially as the more contagious Omicron variant spreads. “Cruise ships involve the movement of large numbers of people in settings where they are likely to have close contact with one another,” it said.
“Cruise ships may also be a means by which infected persons travel between geographic locations,” it added.
The CDC investigates a ship if the cases onboard are reported in 0.10% or more of passengers on restricted voyages, which typically have thousands of passengers and usually sail for five to 10 days. If a ship is carrying 6,500 passengers, it would require at least seven passenger-cases during the previous seven days to meet the agency’s investigation threshold. The CDC also investigates a crew-only ship if cases are reported in less than 1% of crew.
The majority of the 86 cruise ships being investigated or monitored by the CDC belong to the largest three cruise operators: 32 of the ships are owned by Carnival, including its Holland America and Princess Cruises brands. Royal Caribbean owns 25 and Norwegian Cruise Line owns 15.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal criticized the resumption of cruises, saying: “Our warnings have proved sadly prescient & continuously compelling. Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause – docking their ships. Cruises are repeating recent history as petri dishes of Covid infection.”
Anne Madison, a spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association, reiterated the cruise industry’s cooperation with the CDC.
“The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and our members…continue to have very productive dialogue and are working together with the CDC in the interest of public health and safety,” she said.
“Many of our members have announced additional measures in response to the Omicron variant, including strengthening testing, masking and other requirements, as well as encouraging booster vaccine doses for those eligible – and some cruise lines are requiring an additional test at embarkation,” she added.
The 86 cruise ships continue to sail, despite the investigation.