The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given cruises the go-ahead to set sail in the U.S. after months of uncertainty — but it could still be months before passengers are allowed on board.
On Friday, the health organization released an updated conditional sailing order lifting their no-sail ban and replacing it with a list of new health protocols and a "framework of actionable items" for cruises to follow beginning Nov. 1.
The order — which applies to ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers and travel in U.S. waters — details how cruise lines should take a "phased approach for the safe and responsible resumption of passenger cruises," making it clear that no passengers will be allowed to sail at this time.
"This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live," CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D said in a press release. "CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers."
During the initial phases, the CDC is requiring that all cruise companies have additional testing and social distancing requirements before they can move forward and operate mock voyages.
Ships will then sail on simulated voyages with volunteers pretending to be passengers to "test cruise ship operators' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk," according to the release.
Cruise companies who are able to meet these requirements and obtain proper certification will then be on track to "return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and communities."
The CDC first issued a no-sail order on March 14 and was intended to stay in place for 30 days. At the time, several cruise ships across the world had become sources of major coronavirus outbreaks.
One ship, the Grand Princess, was quarantined off San Francisco after 21 people on board tested positive for the virus in March. That ship eventually docked in the port of Oakland and those on board quarantined on land.
Another cruise ship, the Holland America, reported four dead and 233 ill on two of its ships heading for Ft. Lauderdale in March after being turned away from ports in South America.
“Cruise ships are incubators,” infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine previously told PEOPLE. “Everybody’s close together, packed in all the time. One person gets sick, a lot of them get sick. It’s a very unfavorable environment for disease transmission.”
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