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CDC lifts some mask rules for vaccinated cruise passengers

The Carnival cruise ship Liberty, docked at Port Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday as crew members are vaccinated. (Joe Burbank/AP)

Cruise ship passengers who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to take their masks off outdoors as long as they aren’t in crowds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The agency included the new guidance in an update to its operations manual for cruise lines to follow when they eventually restart sailing under new coronavirus-era rules.

“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that — if they are fully vaccinated — they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings,” the manual says.

Spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said the revision was made to “align with the CDC’s current guidance for fully vaccinated people.” More updates are coming soon, she added.

“CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the [conditional sailing order],” she said in an email.

CDC outlines path for U.S. cruising to resume by mid-July

The agency says its order requiring masks to be worn on planes, trains, ships and other forms of transportation still applies on cruise ships, though passengers don’t have to wear masks in their own cabins and can temporarily remove them “for brief periods of time while eating or drinking.”

Passengers are also advised not to wear masks when doing anything that might get them wet, like swimming. Instead, the CDC says, it is “particularly important” for people to keep at least six feet of distance from anyone who isn’t part of their traveling group.

Ships are supposed to reduce the number of people who use pools and other water facilities to allow for enough distance between users who aren’t together, and place pool chairs or sun beds six feet apart unless they are being used by members of the same group.

Cruise lines can also allow fully vaccinated passengers to explore independently when they stop at ports, the CDC said, as long as they wear masks indoors. Operators should “consider prohibiting” such activity for passengers and crew who are not fully vaccinated, the agency says.

The CDC and cruise lines have been in regular meetings for the past month discussing how sailing can restart from the United States after coming to a halt in March 2020. In April, the CDC said cruising can restart more quickly if ships have at least 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers fully vaccinated. Several lines have said they will make vaccination a requirement for everyone — or at least every adult — on board.

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