(3:50 p.m. EST) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced it
on all forms of transportation within the United States, including aboard cruise ships and inside cruise terminals across the country.
The new guidance, which will take effect February 2, will also mandate the use of face masks by all travelers within, to or out of the United States onboard all airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, busses, taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber.
In addition, all bus stations, subway stations, airports and cruise terminals will also require all travelers to use face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as they are classified as transportation hubs.
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The CDC states that masks will also be required upon embarkation and disembarkation for cruise ships, along with other forms of transportation, within the U.S.
"America's transportation systems are essential," said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. "Given how interconnected most transportation systems are across our nation and the world, when infected persons travel on public conveyances without wearing a mask and with others who are not wearing masks, the risk of interstate and international transmission can grow quickly."
The CDC concluded its guidance by stating its recommendation that all nonessential travel should continue to be avoided.
Cruise Lines Already Requiring Mask Usage
Most of the world's cruise lines have already introduced guidance requiring the use of face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when passengers are in the vessel's public areas, except while eating or drinking.
As early as last June, it was looking increasingly like cruise passengers would be required to wear masks when cruising resumed.
In September, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' Healthy Sailing Panel released a series of 74 recommendations to the CDC for the safe resumption of cruising within the United States. Recommendation 16 covered the use of face masks and concluded that usage should be a part of any return to service plan.
"The Panel discussed the benefits to widespread and consistent usage of face masks on board a cruise ship as well as consumer preferences about mask usage," states the Healthy Sail Panel's
in the section regarding the usage of personal protective equipment.
"The limited experience this summer aboard European cruises has revealed that a significant portion of guests wear face masks in public areas, even when they are not mandated. Therefore, in the interest of limiting potential spread of virus, the Panel recommends that face coverings are a simple and effective strategy that should be employed."
At the same time, the Cruise Lines International Association, the governing body that represents much of the cruise industry, sent the CDC its list of recommendations for successful restart of cruise.
Both CLIA and the Healthy Sail Panel recommended the mandatory use of face masks when passengers were in public areas outside of their cabins.
Three months after the fact, the CDC has yet to act upon any of the cruise industry's submitted guidance. The CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing, issued October 30, simply states that the cruise lines must follow applicable guidance from the CDC, without directly specifying what that would be.
"While the actions taken by some cruise ship operators to improve their public health response to COVID-19 are encouraging, ongoing public health oversight is needed to ensure uniform standards for mitigating the communicable disease risk to crew and prospective passengers," the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing order states.
Guidelines on Mask Usage Now Clearer for Cruise Terminals within the United States
One aspect that the CDC's new directive clears up is what will be required for passengers embarking on cruises within the United States.
By mandating that all transportation hubs, including seaports, require face coverings for all embarking and disembarking passengers, the CDC has laid out clear, concise expectations for passengers, whether they're embarking at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, PortMiami, or setting sail out of Long Beach.
Rather than having a patchwork of differing rules and regulations, the CDC's guidance that takes effect February 2 will make it easier for passengers to know what to expect when embarking or disembarking any cruise ship at any U.S. port of call., though local regulations regarding the usage of face coverings will still have to be followed once outside the cruise terminal.
Regardless of the latest CDC mandate, cruising within the United States has been on pause since March 2020. The CDC's reporting requirements for the cruise industry are currently the strictest of any transportation mode within the United States.