In a surprising update to its COVID-19 protocols, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending shorter isolation and quarantine time periods for individuals who test positive or have been exposed to a positive case of the disease. This is likely to impact cruise protocols as well, and can be good news for individuals who may test positive while sailing.
CDC Shortens Isolation and Quarantine Protocols
According to the latest guidance, the CDC now recommends individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic – displaying no symptoms of the illness – need only self-isolate for 5 days instead of 10 after they receive their test result. If after 5 days of isolation the person remains asymptomatic, they should continue to wear a mask around others for another 5 days as an extra precaution.
This new recommendation comes in response to the Omicron variant, which has proven to cause only milder symptoms and results in dramatically fewer hospitalizations and other risks for those infected, particularly if they have already been vaccinated.
The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after symptoms first occur.
The same guidance – 5 days of self-isolation followed by 5 days of mask-wearing – is now also recommended for unvaccinated or unboosted individuals exposed to a positive COVID-19 case. Individuals who have received a booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure, as should anyone if quarantining is not feasible.
“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” said CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Will This Affect Cruises?
While these new guidelines are not likely to affect cruise ships’ itinerary changes or the reactions of different ports of call if cases are reported onboard, it can make reactions on the ship more enjoyable for passengers.
For example, if a positive case is reported on a ship, contact tracing can identify other passengers who have come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. Those passengers, if they are fully vaccinated and have received a booster, may be able to continue to enjoy cruise ship activities if they wear a suitable mask, rather than going into isolation in their staterooms.
Furthermore, asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive will only need to remain quarantined for 5 days rather than 10, which means they may be able to return to onboard activities on longer sailings rather than remaining in isolation for the rest of the cruise.
Because cruise ships have proven to react quickly to positive cases, this can mean even better control of the virus’s transmission and more normalcy onboard.
How Cruise Ships Isolate Passengers
Different cruise lines have different onboard procedures to react to positive COVID-19 cases. For example, according to Carnival Cruise Line’s Have Fun. Be Safe. protocols, guests who test positive or who may be exposed to a positive case on board “will be required to undergo additional testing and may be required to quarantine in their stateroom until [the] medical team determines it is safe for them to resume their cruise activities.”
Because the cruise line is following CDC guidance for its own quarantine protocols, hopefully this will mean shorter isolation periods and more passengers able to enjoy cruise activities.
According to the Healthy Sail Center frequently asked questions, guests who test positive on Royal Caribbean cruises “will move to isolation staterooms that are closer to the Medical Center and will enjoy complimentary amenities like Wi-Fi and room service, along with regular visits or tele-consultations with medical staff to monitor their wellness.”
Again, because the ship’s guidelines are based on CDC recommendations, it is hoped that cruise passengers may now have shorter isolation periods and be able to return to onboard activities more quickly.
As the CDC continues to adapt its recommendations to the evolution of COVID-19 and its variants, cruise lines will continue to adapt as well. Passengers should remain patient and flexible with their vacation expectations as protocols change to manage the disease and minimize the risks to passengers, crew, and the ports of call ships are able to visit.