CDC warns older adults, travelers in COVID high-risk groups not to take cruises, even if they're vaccinated

Bailey Schulz
USA TODAY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to recommend they avoid cruise ships, regardless of vaccination status.  

The new guidance applies to older adults, people with certain medical conditions and pregnant and recently pregnant people. Prior to Friday’s announcement, the agency recommended that only people who were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 avoid cruise ships. 

The change comes as the U.S. faces its fourth wave of COVID-19, driven by the delta variant. As of Friday, the country has reported 987,417 new cases and 6,037 virus-related deaths in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

The CDC's website says the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread easily between people in close quarters on ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is “high.” 

COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported on cruise ships in recent months, despite various testing and vaccination requirements among cruise lines. 

In July, four vaccinated adults and two unvaccinated children tested positive for COVID-19 on a Royal Caribbean ship that had required passengers 16 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and all passengers to receive a negative test before boarding. Last week, 27 people – 26 of whom were crew members – tested positive for COVID-19 on Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Vista ship. More than 99% of crew members were vaccinated on the ship and 96.5% of passengers were vaccinated, according to the Belize Tourism Board. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 avoid cruise ships, regardless of vaccination status.

CDC protocol says at least 95% of passengers and crew must show proof of vaccination to board a cruise ship. 

A number of cruise lines have strengthened COVID-19 regulations on U.S. sailings as the delta variant continues to spread. Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line added mask requirements in select spaces and testing requirements for all passengers, regardless of vaccination status, earlier this month. 

The CDC recommends people who go on cruises wear a mask in shared spaces and get tested one to three days before their trip and three to five days after, regardless of vaccination status. Passengers who are not fully vaccinated should also self-quarantine for at least seven days after their cruise ends, according to the CDC's website.

► COVID-19 on cruise:27 people on board Carnival Cruise Line ship test positive for COVID-19

► Positive tests on cruise:Four vaccinated adults, two unvaccinated children test positive for COVID on Royal Caribbean ship

Contributing: Morgan Hines, USA TODAY. Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz