The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should reconsider allowing cruise lines to resume operations in July, as the industry had asked.
The Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group representing about 95 percent of the global market, said last month the industry by early July could resume operations safely.
That position was supported by the experiences of cruise lines already operating in other nations, the trade group argued.
“Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” Kelly Craighead, the association’s president and CEO, said in a letter to the CDC.
“These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”
The association argued fewer than 50 cases of COVID transmission had been reported among those 400,000 passengers, a rate far lower than achieved by any other mode of transportation.
The association didn’t say it, but there are a few fairly obvious contradictions in the CDC’s hard line against cruise lines operating in the United States.
One is many other forms of mass transportation are operating. Airlines are operating, for example, and apparently there’s much variation about how hard carriers are working to enforce COVID safety protocols. Some seem serious about it, others not so much.
It’s hard to argue that sailing on a large cruise ship is inherently risker than being sealed for several hours in an aluminum cigar with recirculated air.
Likewise, cruising seems no more risky than being in the stands at Minute Maid Park with a few thousand other screaming fans, as happened Thursday night in Houston.
In other words, the hard line against cruise lines seems more arbitrary than practical and necessary.
The quickest fix for this problem might be for cruise lines to require proof of vaccination from adult passengers, which some lines already are doing aboard vessels departing from Caribbean ports. Vaccination requirements have support among cruise-line customers, according to a survey by the website Cruise Critic. The survey of 3,000 frequent cruisers found 81 percent supported vaccination requirements, according to Cruise Critic.
That situation is complicated by moves among states such as a Texas and Florida to ban vaccine passports, which is a loaded term describing a requirement to prove a person has been vaccinated.
The executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued Tuesday wouldn’t prevent cruise lines operating in Texas from requiring proof of vaccinations, according to the governor’s office.
“Governor Abbott respects our state’s business community and does not believe government should unnecessarily interfere with the free market,” press secretary Renae Eze said.
“Like the old adage ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service,’ private businesses have every right to determine how to conduct and manage their business — the same as with requiring patrons to wear masks,” she said. “Only private and public entities that receive taxpayer funding are prohibited from requiring vaccine passports.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order apparently would prevent cruise lines from requiring proof, however, according to some reports.
Florida’s ban on vaccination requirements is why the CDC in its most recent set of guidelines didn’t require cruise lines to demand proof of vaccinations, according to The New York Times.
Part of the tacit justification for singling out the cruise industry with especially strict treatment might be misconception about necessity. But while nobody has to take a pleasure cruise, there’s nothing frivolous about the industry in places where it operates.
The cruise industry supported nearly 450,000 American jobs and contributed more than $55.5 billion to the U.S. economy annually before the pandemic, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.
“Based on economic modeling by research firm BREA, more than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the United States due to the suspension of cruises,” the trade group argues.
“The majority of those impacted are independent business owners or individuals employed by small- to medium-sized businesses — including travel agents, taxi drivers, port employees, baggage handlers and longshoremen, as well as airline, hotel and restaurant workers.”
The bottom line is that nobody has to board a cruise ship. The cruise lines should be allowed to operate under the rules they think best, even if that means requiring proof of vaccination, and Americans should be allowed to board the ships — or not — as they think best.
• Michael A. Smith