This article was updated on Monday, July 18 at 6:52 p.m. EST
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ended its COVID-19 program for cruise ships on Monday (July 18), according to an update posted to the agency’s website.
"CDC has worked closely with the cruise industry, state, territorial, and local health authorities, and federal and seaport partners to provide a safer and healthier environment for cruise passengers and crew," the CDC’s website reads. "Cruise ships have access to guidance and tools to manage their own COVID-19 mitigation programs."
The CDC added that "while cruising poses some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC will continue to publish guidance to help cruise ships continue to provide a safer and healthier environment for crew, passengers, and communities going forward."
This means the CDC will stop reporting coronavirus levels for cruise ships in U.S. waters, ending a pandemic-era action that allowed the agency to monitor the spread of the virus.
A colour-coded chart and spreadsheet that once detailed the level of spread on ships is also no longer visible on the CDC website.
In a statement posted online, the CDC said it ended the program because it “depended upon each cruise line having the same COVID-19 screening testing standards, which may now vary among cruise lines.”
“Therefore, the cruise ship colour status webpage has been retired,” the CDC wrote.
The CDC noted that cruise lines will continue to report coronavirus cases to the agency.
Cruise passengers also “have the option of contacting their cruise line directly regarding outbreaks occurring on board their ship,” the CDC noted in an FAQ.
The CDC moved to a voluntary program for cruise ships earlier this year, which offered recommendations on safety measures like testing and vaccination.
Cruise lines that opted into the program agreed to follow those recommendations.
The update comes as occupancy levels on cruise ships have ramped back up more than two years after the pandemic shut the sector down.
Last March, the CDC dropped its coronavirus warning for cruises and today, vaccination and pre-arrival testing requirements vary by cruise line.
A "giant leap forward"
Caroline Hay, president of Cruise CEO, a cruise-focused host agency that launched in Canada last year, said the CDC’s latest move is "a giant leap forward."
"This news is a green light for cruise lines to drop pre-cruise testing and onboard masking and be more flexible regarding vaccination status," Hay wrote PAX in an email on Monday.
Pre-cruise testing is the "primary issue" that is holding clients back from cruising, Hay said.
"We aren’t sure if our cruise partners will make any health and safety protocol changes. However, I do anticipate changes ahead and we eagerly await updates from the cruise lines," Hay wrote.
"When we start to see cruise lines drop this requirement, we will be on the precipice of the busiest travel and booking period for cruises since 2019, which is what we’ve all been waiting for!"