Cruise operators could begin sailing out of U.S. ports by mid-July, so long as the companies can verify that 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly spelled out those guidelines to leaders of the cruise industry in a letter on Wednesday.
The reports come about a month after the CDC issued a framework for cruise operators to restart their businesses, which includes new recommended practices for crew members and passengers.
The CDC has also said cruise lines should conduct trial voyages with paying customers to test the new procedures before formally setting sail.
Those guidelines said that cruise operators must apply for a certificate at least 60 days before offering passenger cruises, but reports Thursday said the CDC would close that window to five days.
The letter from the CDC also noted that the agency would loosen restrictions around testing by allowing rapid tests in place of more accurate PCR tests. They also said they would loosen quarantine guidelines for passengers exposed to COVID-19 on a ship, saying that passengers that live within driving distance of the port can quarantine at home, while others could quarantine at a hotel.
U.S. cruise ships have been docked since March of 2020, when COVID-19 began spreading throughout the world. Cruise ships were a huge contributor to the early spread of the virus — the Diamond Princess cruise ship saw 712 infections and 13 deaths linked to the virus.
Since the shutdown in March, the CDC has extended no-sail orders on cruise ships multiple times, most recently through Nov. 1. The moves have angered those in the cruise industry and politicians in states where ships often depart.
Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sued the federal government in the hopes of reopening cruise ships.
"People are still going to go on cruises,” DeSantis, a Republican, said. “You know what they're going to do? Instead of flying to Miami, spending money to stay in our hotels, spending money to eat in our restaurants before they get on the ship, they're going to fly to the Bahamas, and they're going to get on the ship from the Bahamas, and they're going to spend the money in the Bahamas.”