Last week, 93 out of 94 cruise ships reporting COVID-19 data to the CDC had active outbreaks, meeting the agency’s threshold of cases in at least 0.3% of passengers and crew.
Then, this past Monday, the CDC abruptly stopped reporting these data. A page that previously displayed COVID-19 status for all cruise ships monitored by the agency was replaced with a note:
As of July 18, 2022, CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships is no longer in effect. CDC will continue to publish guidance to help cruise ships continue to provide a safer and healthier environment for passengers, crew and communities going forward.
This seems a bit suspicious, considering that the U.S. (including cruise ships) is in the middle of a COVID-19 surge driven by the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 variant. In a statement to the Washington Post, CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said: “CDC has determined that the cruise industry has access to the necessary tools… to prevent and mitigate COVID-19 on board.”
But there have been no substantial changes to COVID-19 safety measures on cruise ships that might merit this change, according to the Post; in fact, cruises have only become more lenient since the beginning of 2022. Some cruise lines have stopped requiring tests before passengers board a ship.
Cruise lines will continue to report COVID-19 data to the CDC, but the process is voluntary. And without public data from cruise ships, passengers trying to decide whether they should proceed with a trip will need to call a cruise line directly to ask about potential outbreaks.
I’ve heard some commentators say that the end of the mask mandate on airplanes in April was a turning point in U.S. attitudes towards the pandemic. The end of cruise ship data feels like another potential turning point, demonstrating how the CDC is slowly pulling resources out of its COVID-19 response—even as the country faces a dangerous surge.