The CDC Says There Is One Surprising Way to Travel Without a Mask
The agency changed mask rules for vaccinated travelers using this mode of transportation.
Since the start of the COVID pandemic, mask guidelines have been one of the most hotly debated topics. Whether it's the use of N95 respirators versus cloth masks or when and where you need to wear them, the opinions on face covering have been wide-ranging, and the place we're supposed to look to for guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has often come under fire for its handling of these guidelines. Recently, as the number of vaccinated people across the country has risen to more than half of U.S. adults, the agency seemed to be feeling the pressure to make a change. On May 13, a much-discussed shift finally came when the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, but there is one place they're still necessary. "We still have the requirement to wear masks when you travel," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a White House press briefing on May 13. That includes all public transportation—planes, trains, buses, subways, airports, and stations. However, there may be one exception: The CDC says vaccinated cruise ship passengers don't have to wear masks during outdoor activities.
On May 12, the CDC updated its Conditional Sailing Order to lift some mask rules for vaccinated cruise passengers. Cruise ship operators can now allow fully vaccinated passengers and crew members to gather or do activities outdoors without wearing masks. Vaccinated cruise goers must wear masks in crowded areas, according to the May 12 guidelines. It's unclear if the agency will update these guidelines based on the larger May 13 change.
Another guideline change the CDC made on May 12 gives cruise ship operators the right to decide if they will allow fully vaccinated passengers and crew members to take part in "self-guided or independent exploration" during port stops, CruiseCritic.com reports (via USA Today). If so, the CDC does urge vaccinated passengers who explore on their own to wear masks while indoors.
Of course, this all depends on the guidelines of the place where the boat docks. "The cruise ship operator is additionally advised that foreign jurisdictions may have their own requirements," the CDC adds. The agency also explains that cruise operators can consider banning unvaccinated passengers from independently exploring places off the ship. But if they are allowed to participate in shore excursions, the CDC recommends cruise operators have unvaccinated and partially immunized passengers wear a mask and follow social distancing protocols.
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Before the most recent guideline change regarding masks on cruise ships, Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO, slammed the CDC's rules for vaccinated cruise passengers as "preposterous," according to Travel Weekly. "For example, even though everyone onboard would be vaccinated, in between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask," Del Rio said on a May 6 earnings call. "I'm going to give the CDC an opportunity to expand and clarify."