In a letter to the cruise line industry on Wednesday, the CDC has now taken the position that cruise ships can operate in U.S. waters by mid-July as long as 95% of customers and 98% of the crew have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” wrote Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force. 

The letter came after a month of twice-weekly meetings with cruise industry representatives. During those meetings, the industry and the health agency discussed the Conditional Sailing Order. The cruise industry has been pushing for the CDC to lift its Conditional Sailing Order, calling the agency’s restrictions “outdated.”

Earlier this month, the CDC said that cruise ships must run trial sailings with volunteers to test out the safety protocols. Applications for thosw “mock” trips would take 60 days to review, but in the recent CDC guidance, the agency said it would respond to applications within five days.

Their letter came after a lawsuit brought against the CDC by Florida Republican Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Dan Sullivan of Alaska attemmpting to override the CDC’s restrictions on cruising and get ships back on U.S. waters by July.

Earlier in April Florida Governor Ran DeSantis said, “Florida has one of the busiest ports in the world, typically bringing in billions of dollars to the state’s economy at Port Miami, Port Everglades, and Port Canaveral. The industry doesn’t need a bureaucratic overseer to ensure the safety of its customers.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the cruise-ship industry was hit hard. The CDC issued a no-sailing order after thousands of passengers aboard cruise ships were stranded (quarantined) aboard or infected with the virus. Not long after shutdowns were happening internationally, the agency issued a conditional sailing order.