Matsui and Blumenthal Urge CDC to Take Aggressive Action to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships

WASHINGTON, D.C. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urging her to strictly enforce recently issued safety guidance under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and immediately halt cruises if outbreaks occur on board.

“Given the potential for a large, virus spreading event on a cruise ship, the CDC appropriately issued its No-Sail Order to suspend cruise ship operations,” the lawmakers wrote.  

On April 2, 2021, the CDC issued the first new guidance since October 31 of last year, outlining technical guidance that would allow for the resumption of sailing.

“While the United States makes progress toward our shared goal of beating this pandemic, COVID-19 remains a grave public health risk that requires ongoing vigilance,” the lawmakers continued. “Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress.”

Congresswoman Matsui and Senator Blumenthal are long-time advocates for improving safety, security, and medical standards aboard cruise vessels. Together, they are lead sponsors of the Cruise Passenger Protection Act (CPPA) in Congress. The bill would build on the passenger safety measures signed into law in the Matsui-led 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA). Just last year, important CPPA provisions were enacted which would strengthen critical medical standards aboard cruise ships. These critical provisions guarantee the presence of a physician to treat any passenger in the event of an emergency, require an appropriate number of qualified medical staff to treat the number of passengers on board, and ensure that passengers are aware of the location of the vessel’s medical facilities and steps they should follow during a medical emergency.

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Director Walensky:

We write today with significant concern about the prospect of premature resumption of cruise ship operations that could threaten public safety and increase the spread of the coronavirus. While the United States is making significant progress in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, introduction and spread of COVID-19 by cruise ship crew and passengers could undermine this progress and require additional mitigation measures that delay our economic recovery and put public health at severe risk. We urge you to strictly enforce the technical guidance issued under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to minimize this threat, and take all appropriate steps—including halting cruises as necessary—if outbreaks occur on board.

In its March 14, 2020, No-Sail Order, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged the “increased risk of transmission on cruise ships” noting that outbreaks on cruise ships had “resulted in countless hours of work for numerous already-burdened public health officials.” Given the potential for a large, virus spreading event on a cruise ship, the CDC appropriately issued this No-Sail Order to suspend cruise ship operations. On April 2, 2021, the CDC issued the first phase of technical guidance under the CSO, which was implemented on October 31, 2020 by the previous administration. This guidance outlines procedures and protocols that will allow resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so. Failing to adhere to this guidance could create unsafe conditions that jeopardize public health. Therefore, we believe it is a public health imperative that the CDC rigorously enforce the technical guidance under the CSO and take all necessary measures, including stopping cruise line operations as needed, if COVID-19 outbreaks happen aboard ships.

While the United States makes progress toward our shared goal of beating this pandemic, COVID-19 remains a grave public health risk that requires ongoing vigilance. Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress. It is absolutely critical that we listen to scientists and health and safety experts over the industry and its profit-driven executives.

Thank you for your attention to this important public health matter.

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