The CDC sounded the alarm on cruises Thursday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, raising its travel warning to the highest level and telling Americans to "avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status."
"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," the CDC wrote in its new advisory.
The federal government shut down cruises altogether at the beginning of the pandemic. Then in June, after 15 months of a no sail order, the CDC allowed cruise lines to restart trips under strict conditions.
Several dozen ships are currently being investigated by the CDC due to COVID-19 cases onboard, but the agency does not release the exact number of infections.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) called the CDC’s decision "particularly perplexing" on Thursday, arguing that cruises provide "one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus.
"While we are disappointed and disagree with the decision to single out the cruise industry — an industry that continues to go above and beyond compared to other sectors — CLIA and our ocean-going cruise line members remain committed to working collaboratively with the CDC in the interest of public health and safety," the industry group said in a statement.
The Royal Caribbean Group said Thursday that its case count has spiked in recent weeks, but only 0.162% of passengers, or 1,745 out of 1.1 million guests, have tested positive for COVID-19 since sailing restarted in June.
"We don’t like to see even one case, but our experience is a fraction of the comparable statistics of virtually any other comparable location or industry," Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said in a statement on Thursday.
COVID-19 cases have surged nationwide this month as omicron takes over delta as the dominant variant.
Florida, the heart of the cruise industry, recorded a record 58,013 new cases on Wednesday, breaking the previous record of 52,995 that was set Tuesday, according to CDC data.