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The British flag isn’t the only flag that adorns a cruise ship. Norwegian Cruise Line’s U.S.-flagged, Hawaii-based Pride of America has a stylized stars-and-stripes across its hull. (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will extend its “no-sail” order for the U.S. cruise industry through Oct. 31, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY.

The CDC’s previous order had been scheduled to expire Sept. 30 after extensions to the original mid-March order in April and again in July. 

The CDC requested that the order be extended to February 15, but compromised with the White House Task Force to extend until Oct. 31 four days before the Nov. 3 election. 

USA TODAY has reached out to White House officials for additional information.

On Tuesday night, Axios reported that CDC Director Robert Redfield was overruled in the White House Situation Room regarding a Feb. 15 extension. 

U.S. COVID-19 daily cases are down from a high in July but continue to exceed those of most other countries around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has logged nearly 7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 200,000 deaths.

Cruise industry voluntarily suspended US operations until Nov. 1, but that could change

In August, Cruise Lines International Association, the major trade organization for oceangoing cruise lines, announced its member lines would not sail in U.S. waters through Oct. 31. 

The trade organization’s member lines carry 95% of the world’s ocean-going cruisers. Like the CDC’s order, the directive applies to vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers.

“We believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. oceangoing cruise operations to Oct. 31,” CLIA said in a statement provided by Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications.

But the extension came with caveats. The restart date, Nov. 1, wasn’t set in stone. The organization said at the time it would continually evaluate the situation and would announce whether modifications would be necessary. If conditions in the U.S. change to allow short, modified sailings, CLIA said it would consider an earlier restart.

Cruise companies are preparing to sail

Ahead of the CDC’s announcement, which is officially expected Wednesday,CLIA announced Monday it would implement new core elements mandatory on member ships. Those include mandating crew and passenger testing, mask wearing, enhanced cruise ship ventilation, stringent response procedures and shore excursion protocols to make it safe to sail during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

CLIA worked with cruise lines citing recommendations from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s “Healthy Sail Panel,” Carnival Corp.’s independent experts and from MSC’s Blue Ribbon group. The group also examined sailings that proved safe with new rules enforced on board in Europe on lines including MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Seadream, Ponant and TUI, among others. 

“Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists, and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year,” Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA, said in an overview of the elements.

CLIA submitted a response to the CDC’s request for public comment including its elements and answers to 28 questions the CDC posed to the public about the resumption of cruising. The “Healthy Sail Panel” also submitted a 65-page response to the CDC’s request, including 74 recommendations as to how to approach the return to cruising. 

Cruises and the pandemic

The cruise industry was at the eye of the pandemic’s storm early in the year as COVID-19 began to snake its way into communities across the globe.

The world’s attention turned to cruises when an outbreak infected more than 700 people and killed more than a dozen on Carnival Corp. line Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess. And it wasn’t the only ship that faced an outbreak. Vessels across many cruise lines found themselves with virus cases in February and March ahead of the CDC’s no-sail order. But ships struggled to make it back to ports, and between March 1 and July 10, the CDC found 99 outbreaks across 123 ships.

But in the more than six months since the pandemic began and effectively shut the cruise industry down, things have evolved.

“(We have done) tremendous learning about the virus over these months,” Adam Goldstein, global chair of CLIA, said at a virtual press conference Monday. 

CDC official says: Cruise ships pose risk for ‘amplified,’ ‘scattered’ COVID-19 community spread

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