The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory Thursday urging all travelers — vaccinated and unvaccinated — to avoid cruise ship travel amid a record Covid surge driven by the omicron variant in many states across the U.S.
"Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the CDC said in a midday bulletin.
The CDC said the coronavirus "spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high."
It said the travel health notice upgrade from level 3 to level 4 "reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the omicron variant."
The CDC said more cruise ships are at "level yellow" on a color-coded CDC chart, at which point it investigates an outbreak on a ship.
"It is especially important that travelers who are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, regardless of vaccination status," it added.
If you do chose to cruise, the CDC said, be sure to get a vaccine booster shoot if you are eligible and to wear a mask in shared spaces onboard. People who are "not fully vaccinated" should also quarantine for five days after cruise travel, they said.
The airline industry has already suffered setbacks from the omicron variant. JetBlue said Wednesday that it would "proactively" cancel flights through Jan. 13 to get ahead of expected staffing shortages because of spiking Covid rates in the New York City area.
More than 800 people tested positive and 10 people died in early 2020 aboard the quarantined cruise ships the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess.
After ships and tourists returned to the seas in late 2021, many new policies were introduced to tamp down the spread of Covid onboard: mandatory vaccinations, negative Covid tests and even daily PCR tests for all passengers.
In a statement provided on behalf of major cruise lines, the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, said it was "disappointed" and "perplexed" by the new CDC guidance. It said it disagrees "with the decision to single out the cruise industry."
"No setting can be immune from this virus — however, it is also the case that cruises provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus," the statement said.
The group added that many cruise companies are adding new measures in response to the surging omicron variant and that over 100 ships "have returned to U.S. waters, carrying nearly more than one million people from a U.S. port since late June 2021."