CDC Announces Additional Relaxed Protocol for Vaccinated Travelers
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released new protocols for cruise ship operators regarding vaccinated travelers. These new guidelines specifically cover ships with 95% of all passengers (and 95% of all crew) being vaccinated. Mask usage, social distancing, and food services for vaccinated travelers are the key parts of this new update from the CDC. Here’s a look at the specifics of these new guidelines that have been introduced and what they will mean for guests.
Mask Usage and Social Distancing
Mask wearing, which has been a much-discussed topic around the resumption of cruising, has received new guidelines for vaccinated travelers in this update. The new guidelines state the following:
- Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask.
- Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise crew who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.
- Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).
- For ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.
What could this mean for passengers?
This opens the door for vaccinated travelers to participate in outdoor activities, like meals or beverage service, without wearing a mask. Cruise lines can also designate certain areas to be available only to vaccinated guests - like the casino, bars, the spa, entertainment areas, or even self-service buffets.
Most importantly, this new guidance also leaves room for cruise lines to stipulate that guests on cruises with 95% of all passengers and crew vaccinated, do not have to wear a mask or social distance in any areas.
As specified in the new guidelines, cruise lines can designate areas as accessible to only fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required, which includes dining venues and self-service buffets. For ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, the CDC has offered the following recommendations for dining areas:
- Change restaurant and bar layouts to ensure that all customer parties remain at least 6 feet apart
- Limit seating capacity to allow for the physical distancing of at least 6 feet
- Discourage crowded waiting areas by using a phone app, text technology, or signs to alert patrons when their table is ready.
- Eliminate self-service food and drink options, like self-service buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations.
- Provide eating utensils in a way that prevents handling by more than one person.
- Install physical barriers in areas where it is difficult for individuals to maintain a proper physical distance of at least 6 feet
- Provide physical guides to remind guests to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet where food and beverages are served.
- Provide and encourage outdoor dining and bar/beverage service options.
- Provide and encourage in-room passenger dining service.
- Limit any sharing of food, tools, equipment, or supplies by food workers, to the extent practicable.
- Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (e.g., serving spoons) to the extent practicable; otherwise, limit the use of supplies and equipment by one group of food workers at a time and clean and disinfect between uses.
- Avoid using or sharing items that are reusable.
What does this mean for guests?
These new protocols are recommendations from the CDC but it will be up to each cruise line to determine how to incorporate these guidelines on sailings where at least 95% of all passengers and crew are vaccinated. Overall, these recommendations are a step in the right direction for the return to cruising by allowing vaccinated travelers to enjoy their vacation with a greater sense of normalcy (ie pre-pandemic) while onboard.
Is there a possibility we still could see a buffet on our next cruise? Possibly - at this point, it will be up to cruise lines to determine how to implement these measures. In all likelihood, if there is a buffet available it will be manned stations served by crew rather than self-serve.