ATLANTA — Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end of October amid reports of recent outbreaks of COVID-19 on ships overseas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that it was extending a no-sail order on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers.
The CDC said surveillance data from March 1 through Sept. 29 shows at least 3,689 COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses on cruise ships in U.S. waters, in addition to at least 41 reported deaths. It said these numbers are likely an underestimate.
It cited recent outbreaks as evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of the novel coronavirus, even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities. It said it would likely spread the infection in the U.S. communities if operations were to resume prematurely.
“Recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continue to have outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on board and spread to communities where passengers disembark,” the CDC said in a statement.
Axios reported Tuesday that the White House this week overruled CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who had pushed to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February. Redfield is reportedly concerned about the severity of the virus and the vulnerability for spread on cruises.
Public officials have privately complained that the move by the White House Coronavirus Task Force ignores science and is politically motivated because the cruise ship industry is a major economic presence in Florida, a key battleground state in the presidential election, Axios reported.
The CDC's extended ban is set to expire Oct. 31, which matches the end of the self-imposed ban set by the industry.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern insisted to The New York Times that the administration’s cruise ship plans are not being driven by politics.
“The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country,” he said.