CDC investigating 86 cruise ships with COVID-19 cases

Cruise operators have added more testing, mask requirements as omicron variant spreads

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating or monitoring 86 cruise ships with reported COVID-19 cases on board, according to a list posted on its website Tuesday, as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads around the world.

The CDC investigates a ship if there are one or more reported COVID-19 cases among the crew or if cases reported account for at least 0.10% of total passengers in the past seven days. For a ship with 6,500 passengers, that would mean seven cases would trigger an investigation.

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As part of the investigation, the CDC works with the cruise ship to lower transmission and ensure medical resources on board aren’t overwhelmed, according to the agency. It also gathers additional information such as case exposure histories, vaccination rates and details about close contacts.

Roatan, Honduras - March 23, 2011: The M.S. Carnival Valor, owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, docked at Mahogany Bay on the Caribbean island of Roatan. (iStock)

Cruises resumed sailing in the U.S. in June after more than a year of being halted domestically due to the pandemic. The CDC considers cruise travelers to be at high risk of contracting the virus because of how easily it spreads among people in close quarters. Many cruise lines, including Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., require most guests to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Ticker Security Last Change Change %
CCL CARNIVAL CORP. 21.22 -0.76 -3.46%
NCLH NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE HOLDINGS LTD. 21.38 -0.56 -2.55%
RCL ROYAL CARIBBEAN GROUP 81.63 -0.70 -0.85%

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Tuesday said cruises should stop operating, calling them "petri dishes of COVID infection" in a tweet. "Time for CDC & cruise lines to protect consumers & again pause—docking their ships," he said.

Of the ships being investigated or monitored, 32 are owned by Carnival and include vessels in its Holland America and Princess Cruises brands. Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said company protocols, including vaccinations, testing and masks for travelers, have been effective. Its crew members are fully vaccinated, he said.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. accounts for 24 of the ships being investigated or monitored, and 14 are owned by Norwegian.

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Bari Golin-Blaugrund, a spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association—a trade group that represents Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and other cruise operators—said members have added more testing and mask requirements as the omicron variant spreads. The companies are "going above and beyond in the interest of public health and safety," she said.