The Symphony of the Seas cruise ship is shown docked at PortMiami, May 20, 2020, in Miami. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Almost 15 months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shuttered the U.S. cruise industry with a no-sail order, the agency has lowered the risk level associated with cruising during COVID-19 from “Very High” to “High” specifically for unvaccinated passengers.

“In preparation for the restart of cruise ships, the travel health notice was updated based on modeling estimates and to align with CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated travelers,” Caitlin Shockey, CDC spokesperson, told USA TODAY Thursday.

The CDC did not specify a numerical risk level for COVID-related risk for vaccinated passengers.

“The level of risk for vaccinated travelers is lower, as they are less likely to get COVID-19 than cruise passengers who are not fully vaccinated,” Shockey said.

Though the health agency updated the risk level from the highest level – a four – to a three for unvaccinated passengers, it still advises against cruise travel for unvaccinated people. “CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide,” the health notice reads.

The update took into consideration the rising number of vaccinated cruise travelers – both passengers and crew members – and the increasing number of cruise ships planning to require proof of vaccination, Shockey said, but added: “Since the virus spreads more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high for those who are not fully vaccinated.”

“Cruise passengers who are not fully vaccinated are more likely to get COVID-19, which spreads person-to-person, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships,” the CDC said in its update.

The CDC recommended that in order to “protect themselves” travelers should get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The health agency also laid out what to do if one chooses to take a cruise:

  • While not required, the CDC recommends you get tested for COVID-19 between one and three days ahead of departure, even if you are fully vaccinated.
  • If you test positive, don’t go on a cruise or travel, isolate.
  • Purchase travel insurance and make sure to have a plan for healthcare abroad in case it becomes necessary. 
  • While on board, social distance from other travelers outside your party.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands.

Per the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, not all cruises in U.S. waters will mandate that passengers to be vaccinated. Some cruise ships, which will undergo test cruises before being permitted to sail with paying passengers, will not be required by the health agency to mandate vaccines. Other ships will be able to bypass test cruises by enforcing a 95% vaccination rate for crew and passengers.

Cruises in U.S. waters are scheduled to resume Sunday with a Royal Caribbean test cruise approved in May by the CDC.

Cruises are coming back: Here are the ships that have received CDC approval to sail soon

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