Last Friday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) enacted an order which requires all travelers to wear masks on public transportation in order to help control the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC defined travelers to include all “passengers and crew.” The order applies to travel by bus, train, plane, vessel and other conveyances, as well as at “transportation hubs” which are defined as airports, seaports, train stations and bus terminals.

As promised during his inauguration speech with the mission to battle the raging coronavirus, President Biden imposed a mask mandate in the  federal context in one of his first executive orders.

Masks Required for All Guests and Crew During Duration of Travel To and On Cruise Ships

The new CDC order requires that all persons who are travelling to or from the United States must wear masks while boarding and disembarking, and for the duration of their travel, “until the conveyance arrives at the foreign destination.”

Cruise passengers who travel to the port via commercial aircraft are required to wear masks while traveling through the air terminal and on aircraft. The CDC order specifically acknowledged that “air travel often requires spending time in security lines and crowded airport terminals. Social distancing may be difficult if not impossible on flights. People may not be able to distance themselves by the recommended 6 feet from individuals seated nearby or those standing or passing through the aircraft’s aisles.”

The order specified the current status of the ongoing pandemic. As of January 27th, COVID-19 has infected almost 100,000,000 people and killed over 2,140,000 people in the world, while infecting over 25,000,000 and killing over 415,000 in the United States. The order also mentions new COVID-19 variants which have recently emerged as well as at least one variant with increased transmissibility. These number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen dramatically since the CDC withdrew its “no-sail order.”

The CDC cited numerous studies, medical journals, and empirical analysis  as evidence supporting the effectiveness of masks in reducing the emission and inhalation of the virus.

The new CDC order will go into effect today at midnight.

The CDC Tightens Cruise Line Protocol Mask-Exclusions

Although some cruise lines already have COVID-19 protocols which include the wearing of masks, the CDC mask requirements appear to limit the exceptions to mask-wearing.  The Royal Caribbean – NCL “Healthy Sail” panel recommendations (no. 16), for example, states that a “notable exception is indoor dining, Seating in restaurants and bars/lounges should allow for physical distancing so guests can eat and drink without face coverings while seated.” Thus, a cruise guest could theoretically sit in a restaurant, bar or lounge for a couple of hours drinking and occasionally snacking without having to wear a mask.  The CDC order, on the other hand, permits travelers not to wear a mask, but only “for brief periods,” while “eating, drinking or taking medications.” The CDC order obviously is more consistent with the fact that the more closely a traveler interacts with others and the longer the interactions, the higher the risk of the spread of the virus.

Vaccines May Be Required in the Future As Well

The CDC addressed the issue of vaccinations and the ability to travel. It stated that travel operators may “impose requirements, or conditions for carriage . . . as well as require evidence that the person does not have COVID-19 . . .” It stands to reason that if the CDC is now requiring the wearing of a mask as a condition of cruising, the agency will eventually require the most effective step to prevent infection with the virus – a COVID-19 vaccine.

Masks Are Required Even After Guests and Crew Are Vaccinated

Masks are still required for those travelers who are vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from COVID-19. The CDC reasoned that whereas “vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe or symptomatic COVID-19, at this time there is limited information on how much the available COVID-19 vaccines may reduce transmission in the general population and how long protection lasts. Therefore, the mask requirement, as well as CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, additionally apply to vaccinated persons. Similarly, CDC recommends that people who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to take precautions to protect themselves and others, including wearing masks . . .”

The CDC order makes this plainly clear. From the CDC site:

“Do I need to wear a mask if I have recovered from COVID-19? 

Yes, the order requires all travelers to wear a mask, including those who have recovered from COVID-19.

Do I need to wear a mask if I have had a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, the order requires all travelers to wear a mask, including those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

To those cruise fans eagerly waiting for a vaccine to resume cruising, this order should be a further wake-up call. It will not be possible to return to this form of non-essential travel / vacation for those who refuse to wear a mask while traveling to and on a cruise ship.

The CDC Still Recommends Against Cruising and Other Non-Essential Travel

Of course, the CDC recommended that “travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide last October and has not lifted the order. The CDC issued a level 3 warning – “Avoid Non-Essential Travel – Widespread Ongoing Transmission.” The CDC continues to urge that people defer all travel, including cruise ships and river cruises. Congregating on cruise ships in restaurants, bars and lounges, in particular, where people are prone to drink alcohol and mingle throughout happy hour into the evening while removing their mask for the duration, remains a particular problem. Other means of travel, including travel by plane, train, or bus, whereas the length of exposure is significantly less than a one-week cruise, nonetheless also increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

The spread of COVID-19 remains a problem as the cruise industry continues to postpone cruises to dates when it knows that it will have to reschedule them once again. Most companies have postponed cruises from U.S. ports until at least May. Many believe that cruising is not likely to resume until later in 2021 or sometime in 2022.

In the three-month period from the end of October until today, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. increased from around 8,800,000 when the “no-sail” order was lifted at the end of last October to over 26,000,000, and deaths from around 227,000 to over 442,000. On a world-wide basis, the number of COVID-19 cases increased from around 44,000,000 to 103,000,000 and deaths from 1,200,000 to over 2,235,000.

Have a comment or question? Please leave on below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credit:

Top – by unknown author –, public domain; middle – LAX Airport Terminal – TimBray at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia; bottom – Carnival Liberty – Jim Walker