Issue Briefs

America's Frontline Doctors

Don’t Keel-haul The Cruise Lines: How Americans Can Sail Again

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted its no-sail order on the US cruise industry in late October 2020. What remains is 40 pages of rules and guidance that fail to square with the realities of the tourism and leisure industry in a post-pandemic world. While the CDC promised to clarify its cruise-line protocols, the domestic industry is falling behind some international competitors, who have been offering trips to customers since July 2020.

This intermediate period is the appropriate time for an informed evaluation of public health protocols and guidelines directed at the US cruise industry. America's Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) believes that a federal healthcare bureaucracy has neither the writ nor the competency to manage a $53 billion-a-year industry supporting more than 421,000 US jobs.

Two things must now happen. First, the CDC and related public health agencies must deliver clear and commonsense guidance to US cruise lines. Dozens of pages of opaque guidance on "simulated voyages" and other unworkable instructions will bankrupt the industry and eliminate the thousands of adjunct jobs in car-rental services and restaurants cruise-ship travel supports. Next, proposals to arbitrage the federal approval process by embracing so-called "vaccine passports" and other commercial mandates should be prohibited by law.

AFLDS Founder Dr. Simone Gold recently called for a passenger boycott of Royal Caribbean Cruises after the company announced a new vaccine requirement for adult guests. As AFLDS has documented in previous policy analyses, a vaccine mandate for an investigational agent like the COVID-19 inoculation is both legally unworkable and medically irrational.

According to a Morning Consult poll, 56% of Americans report that they are likely to travel for summer vacation. As mentioned above, however, the CDC has yet to update its conditional sailing guidelines for the cruise industry, suggesting the framework may stay in place until its expiration on November 1. This is untenable. To cite one published report, Carnival Cruise's parent company recently told investors that it expected to spend $600 million in cash a month on maintenance and preparation alone.

CDC officials have said that the framework could be revised sooner if the Health and Human Services secretary rescinds the public health emergency order for COVID-19 enacted last year. The available evidence from international cruise-line operators as well as scientific studies commends this course of action. For example, of the 400,000 passengers who have set sail since July 2020, fewer than 50 have contracted coronavirus due to travel activities.

The implications of this improvement ought to be clear: CDC's director can, and should, update its guidelines by early summer to meet the expected surge in US cruise travel.

The cruise industry's three biggest players have stated publicly they have enough cash on hand to make it to 2022. For smaller, under-financed cruise lines, however, this is a chartered course to financial failure.

AFLDS is calling on policymakers and public health experts at the federal level to provide certainty to the US cruise industry well before the current sailing guidelines expire on Nov. 1. At the same time, restarting cruises to and from domestic ports must not depend on COVID-19 vaccine mandates of any kind for passengers and crews. To be sure, Americans can set sail again, safely and comfortably, without leaving the Constitution and its civil liberties behind.