Pandemic regulations for cruise ships set to expire; CDC director says they won’t be renewed

A passenger stands on the dock in Juneau near the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship on May 19, 2019. (Photo by Ryan Cunningham/KTOO)

The federal guidelines that have closely regulated the cruise industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, known as the Conditional Sailing Order, are set to expire on Jan. 15. On Tuesday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control, told a U.S. Senate committee that they won’t be renewed.

Dr. Walensky acknowledged that the decision to allow the order to expire was coming during the largest spike in infections since the start of the pandemic. In late December, the CDC issued a warning discouraging cruise travel regardless of vaccination status. The CDC is monitoring or investigating more than 90 cruise ships with COVID-19 on board.

“We anticipate that this order will not be renewed, and that the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries,” she told Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski during the committee meeting. “What I can’t predict is what the summer will bring.”

The CDC first imposed as a “No Sail Order” in March of 2020, which entirely eliminated Alaska’s summer cruise season that year. In October 2020, the agency issued the Conditional Sailing Order that introduced strict guidelines for cruise ships to resume sailings. Most Alaskan ports saw a limited return of ships in 2021, once a legal barrier involving Canada was resolved.

Due to pent-up demand and travel restrictions elsewhere in the world, the Alaska visitor industry has projected a record cruise season in 2022.

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