Port hopeful as CDC says cruise ships could sail again by mid-July

In a letter to the cruise industry, the CDC said cruises could restart for the first time since March 2020 and operators could skip test cruises if the companies verify that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of paying passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

During Wednesday’s Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, Port CEO Capt. John Murray expressed regret that he was unable to give commissioners a date for cruises to resume.

But on Thursday, Murray celebrated the most exciting news he’s received in more than a year as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Wednesday that cruise operators could begin sailing from U.S. ports by mid-July.

In a letter to the cruise industry, the CDC said cruises could restart for the first time since March 2020 and operators could skip test cruises if the companies verify that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of paying passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Other revisions to the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order originally issued in October Include reducing review times for applications to begin simulated passenger voyages from 60 days to five days, allowing cruise operators to enter into multiport agreements instead of separate agreements with each port in the event of a major outbreak aboard cruise ships, updating testing requirements and guidance on ventilation systems, and letting local passengers exposed to the virus drive home and passengers who traveled by air to quarantine in a hotel.

“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force, wrote in the letter. “We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in (CDC guidelines) by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines.”

The CDC’s clarifications follow meetings with cruise industry officials who were hoping for more workable guidelines than the ones released April 2. The extended shutdown led the state of Florida to sue the federal government to get cruises started again.

“This is very exciting news,” Murray said. “Finally, the CDC has responded to the cruise industry with game-changing guidance to restart cruising in the U.S. This newly defined approach includes common-sense recommendations, including CDC’s focus on cruise passengers that drive in for cruises, which could expedite the resumption of cruise operations at Port Canaveral.”

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the Port has lost about 80 percent of its revenue and nearly half of its workforce.

Jean Paugh, owner of All About You Travel Unlimited, 1240 U.S. 1, Suite 6 in Rockledge, called the CDC’s response “the best news we’ve had in months.”

“I am excited and my clients are so ready to start sailing again,” said Paugh, who added that she’s lost 98.3 percent of her sales from 2019 and had to lay off her entire staff last year due to the pandemic. “I believe it’s time. We have been sailing in other ports around the world successfully for over six months now. It’s time to let Americans go back as well.”