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CDC tweaks cruise mask-wearing and shore excursion rules

The CDC today relaxed restrictions on mask-wearing outdoors and shore excursions, but otherwise did not make any major changes to rules on cruise ships with 100% of passengers and crew vaccinated.

The CDC's cruise restart Operations Manual now says that vaccinated passengers are not required to wear masks outside, except in crowded spaces, while unvaccinated passengers still must, including while sunbathing on lounge chairs spaced six feet apart and between bites and sips during outdoor meals.

The CDC's ban on independent shore exploration for all passengers was changed from being a requirement to a recommendation, whether passengers are vaccinated or not. It now says that cruise lines may advise passengers and crew that if they are fully vaccinated, "they may engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops if they wear a mask while indoors."

It still recommends prohibiting independent exploration during port stops by nonvaccinated passengers and crew and that, on shore excursions, unvaccinated passengers should always wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.

Earlier this month, the CDC's cruise restart guidance said that cruisers would have to be masked outside, even while eating or spaced out on the pool deck, whether vaccinated or not. The guidance for eating inside has still not changed and still says that, whether passengers are vaccinated or not, "removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation" of the agency's current mask order.

Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), last week expressed disappointment at those regulations, especially given NCLH's plan to operate ships with 100% of the crew and passengers vaccinated.

"In between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask. So nobody should order soup because your mask might get sloppy," he said. "So that, to me, is just preposterous."

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