The State Department on Sunday advised Americans against traveling on cruise ships, warning that they presented a higher risk of coronavirus infection and made U.S. citizens vulnerable to possible international travel restrictions, including quarantines.
The CDC said it usually advises against destinations — not transportation — during outbreaks, but that the novel coronavirus is an exception.
“Recent reports of COVID-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew. Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC said.
The decision came after President Trump resisted requests from administration officials to publicly urge older travelers to avoid cruise ships and plane travel, saying he thought it would harm those industries, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department wrote in an alert posted to its website Sunday.
Americans should not rely on being evacuated if other countries subject them to quarantine, the department said.
The guidance signaled another escalation in the Trump administration’s efforts to ward off the fast-growing spread of the virus, and another instance of what appeared to be separation between health officials and the president, who has repeatedly registered skepticism over making statements he believes are alarmist.
It came as federal and state officials scrambled to contain a cluster of cases on the 3,500-passenger Grand Princess, which has idled off the coast of California. Twenty-one people onboard tested positive for the coronavirus, and it was on its way to dock on Monday at the Port of Oakland, the vessel’s operator said.
The decision to caution Americans capped weeks of discussions on the Trump administration’s interagency task force about how to communicate alarm about cruise ships after hundreds of Americans, including some who tested positive for the virus, were evacuated from the Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan, a process rife with confusion and disorder.
“We want people who are older, people who have medical conditions, to take steps to protect themselves, including avoiding crowded spaces, including thinking very carefully about whether or not now is the time to get on that cruise ship, whether now is the time to take that long haul flight. For most people you're going to be fine. But if you have medical conditions, or you're older, now is the time to rethink that,” Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN's “State of the Union.”