CDC advises travelers to avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised the public to avoid traveling on cruise ships — regardless of their vaccination status.

The CDC issued an update to its COVID-19 travel health notice that classifies the risks of travel. On Thursday, the agency moved cruise ships from "Level 3: High: to "Level 4: Very High."

Previously, the CDC had signaled it was OK for vaccinated travelers to cruise, so long as they followed other safety measures like masking and social distancing when possible. But with the rise of the highly-infectious omicron variant, the CDC had to update its policy.

"Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the guidelines state. "The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose."

Earlier this week, federal officials announced an investigation into dozens of cruise ships following outbreaks onboard.

As of Dec. 27, 73 cruise ships on restricted sailings were sailing at yellow or orange status, according to the CDC. A restricted voyage is a cruise that has obtained a CDC-issued Conditional Sailing Certificate and is conducted with paying passengers. 

Ship color is determined by surveillance data from the previous seven days — regardless of voyage dates — and ships with orange or yellow status are currently being monitored or investigated. As many as 89 vessels are color-coded orange or yellow — an even higher amount than what the CDC confirmed Wednesday. 

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Cruise ships dock at PortMiami as the cruise line industry waits to begin operations again on May 26, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The cruise industry is one of many that was devastated by the economic downturn ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorization of vaccines and declines in caseloads gave cruise ships a chance to welcome passengers back earlier this year.

Travelers who still wish to board a cruise ship are advised to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster shot if eligible. The CDC also recommends passengers get tested one to three days before the trip and three to five days after the trip, regardless of vaccination status or the presence of symptoms.

Unvaccinated passengers are asked to self-quarantine for five full days after the cruise.

This story was reported from Atlanta. Stephanie Weaver contributed to this report.