Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and new emerging variants at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. January 11, 2022.
Shawn Thew | Reuters
Cruise ships have seen a 30-fold increase in Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks due to the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a Senate hearing Tuesday.
The stark increase in cases comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against cruise ship travel, regardless of passengers’ vaccination status.
In the first two weeks of December, 162 cases were reported aboard vessels. But as cases continued to mount across the globe, cruise lines disclosed more outbreaks. Ships operating in U.S. waters reported about 5,000 Covid cases to the CDC from Dec. 15 through Dec. 29.
Walensky didn’t provide an updated figure on cases aboard cruise ships on Tuesday.
So far, certain ships have been operating under the CDC’s conditional sailing order, which sets safety procedures like mandated testing for foreign-operated cruise ships operating in American water. The order has been in place with slight modifications since Oct. 2020.
Walensky said she doesn’t believe the order, which is expected to expire after Jan. 15, will be renewed. But the agency expects to shift to a voluntary program, working alongside cruise lines. Walensky said she hopes “the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries.”
“What I can’t predict is what the summer will bring,” Walensky said.