Cruise lines can soon begin trial voyages in U.S. waters with volunteer passengers helping test whether the ships can sail safely during a pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave ship operators final technical guidelines Wednesday for the trial runs. The CDC action is a step toward resuming cruises in U.S. waters, possibly by July, for the first time since March 2020.
A spokeswoman for the cruise industry's trade group said the group was reviewing the CDC instructions.
Each practice cruise — they'll run two to seven days — must have enough passengers to meet at least 10% of the ship's capacity. Volunteers must be 18 or older and either fully vaccinated or free of medical conditions that would put them at high risk for severe COVID-19.
The ship operator must tell passengers that they are simulating untested safety measures "and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity,” the CDC guidelines state.
Passengers must be examined for COVID-19 symptoms before and after the trip, and at least 75% must be tested at the end.
Restrictions on board will include face masks and social distancing. The CDC will allow guided shore excursions — no wandering about on their own — if tour operators follow certain standards.
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Ships must make at least one practice run before resuming regular cruises in U.S. waters, although operators will be able to avoid the requirement if they vouch that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated.