USA Today: VIRGINIA – Two hours before its “no-sail” order was set to expire, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Wednesday it is extending its “no-sail” order for the US cruise industry through October 31.

The CDC’s previous order had been scheduled to end Wednesday after extensions to the original mid-March order were issuedin April and again in July.

The CDC requested that the order be extended to February 15, 2021, but compromised with the White House Task Force to extend until October 31, four days before the Nov. 3 election, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY on Tuesday.

USA TODAY has reached out to White House officials for additional information.

“We look forward to engaging in a thoughtful and productive dialogue with our partners and regulators in the United States to return to cruising in the region,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president of strategic communications for Cruise Lines International Association, the leading industry organization, told USA TODAY upon news of the extension Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, Axios reported that CDC Director Robert Redfield was overruled in the White House Situation Room regarding a Feb. 15 no-sail extension.

U.S. COVID-19 daily cases are down from a high in July but continue to exceed those of most other countries around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has logged more than 7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 200,000 deaths.

Cruise industry had already voluntarily suspended US operations until Nov 1

In August, Cruise Lines International Association, the major trade organization for oceangoing cruise lines, announced its member lines would not sail in U.S. waters through Oct. 31 – at earliest.

The trade organization’s member lines carry 95% of the world’s ocean-going cruisers. Like the CDC’s order, the directive applies to vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers.

“We believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. oceangoing cruise operations to Oct. 31,” CLIA said in a statement provided by Golin-Blaugrund in August.

But the extension came with caveats. The restart date, Nov. 1, wasn’t set in stone. The organization said at the time it would continually evaluate the situation and would announce whether modifications would be necessary.

Cruise industry preparing to sail

“We are confident in the industry’s ability to resume operations from U.S. ports in a responsible, phased-in manner,” Golin-Blaugrund said late Wednesday.

“Our actions will build off of the continued success the cruise industry has experienced with recent sailings in Europe and other parts of the world, as well as the guidance we’ve received from some of the world’s leading experts in medicine and science,” she continued.

Ahead of the CDC’s announcement, CLIA announced last week it would implement new core elements mandatory on member ships. Those include mandating crew and passenger testing, mask wearing, enhanced cruise ship ventilation, stringent response procedures and shore excursion protocols to make it safe to sail during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CLIA worked with cruise lines citing recommendations from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s “Healthy Sail Panel,” Carnival Corp.’s independent experts and from MSC’s Blue Ribbon group. The group also examined sailings that proved safe with new rules enforced on board in Europe on lines including MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Seadream, Ponant and TUI, among others.

“Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists, and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year,” Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA, said in an overview of the elements.

CLIA submitted a response to the CDC’s request for public comment including its elements and answers to 28 questions the CDC posed to the public about the resumption of cruising. The “Healthy Sail Panel” also submitted a 65-page response to the CDC’s request, including 74 recommendations as to how to approach the return to cruising.

Some cruise lines have pushed their suspension further than CDC’s

Some cruise lines have taken initiative on their own to extend their sailing suspensions past the new date the CDC’s order is now set to end.

On Thursday, Carnival Cruise Line canceled cruises from U.S. home ports for November and December of this year, except for Miami and Port Canaveral.

Princess Cruises, a subsidiary of cruising giant Carnival, extended its operational pause in the U.S. through Dec. 15. And Virgin Voyages announced Tuesday morning that it made the call to cancel all November sailings, spokesperson Michelle Estevam confirmed to USA TODAY.

Cruises and the pandemic

The cruise industry was at the eye of the pandemic’s storm early in the year as COVID-19 began to snake its way into communities across the globe.

The world’s attention turned to cruises when an outbreak infected more than 700 people and killed more than a dozen on Carnival Corp. line Princess Cruises‘ Diamond Princess. And it wasn’t the only ship that faced an outbreak. Vessels across many cruise lines found themselves with virus cases in February and March ahead of the CDC’s no-sail order. But ships struggled to make it back to ports, and between March 1 and July 10, the CDC found 99 outbreaks across 123 ships.

But in the more than six months since the pandemic began and effectively shut the cruise industry down, things have evolved.

“(We have done) tremendous learning about the virus over these months,” Adam Goldstein, global chair of CLIA, said at a virtual news conference last month.

CDC official says:Cruise ships pose risk for ‘amplified,’ ‘scattered’ COVID-19 community spread

  • Top Feature Photo: Royal Caribbean