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Members of Congress are calling for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reinstate its "no-sail" order, which expired at the end of October and was replaced by a "Conditional Sailing Order" that allows a phased-in return to cruising.
"The CDC is putting American lives at risk, not to mention the potential for enhancing the spread worldwide," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, told USA TODAY Friday.
Blumenthal and Rep. Doris Matsui, a Democrat from California, who are co-sponsors of the proposed Cruise Passenger Protection Act, made the request for reinstatement in a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield.
The letter came after a cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged on SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I, which is currently docked in Barbados after having to cut its first Caribbean voyage short due to the outbreak. “These multiple cases are only the first sign of a looming public health disaster," Blumenthal said.
“In light of these disturbing reports, we feel strongly that you should reverse course on the recent decision by the (CDC) to take a phased approach to restarting cruise line operations in the United States,” Blumenthal and Matsui wrote. “Instead, we implore you to extend the prior no-sail order until a time when the health and safety of passengers and crew can be assured.”
They pointed out in the letter that in spite of the cruise line's efforts to sail safely, including aggressive testing, social distancing, mask wearing requirements and more, the precautions weren't enough to stop the coronavirus from infecting at least seven passengers on board the SeaDream.
"According to the CDC’s own no-sail order, '[c]ruise ships continue to be an unsafe environment with close quarters where the disease spreads easily and is not readily detected,'" the letter continues. "In fact, cruise ships were breeding grounds for the virus at the epicenter of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. With the images of passengers and crew stranded aboard the Grand Princess still fresh in our minds, it is imperative that we learn from the past and take immediate action to prevent history from repeating itself."
The Grand Princess was one of two Princess Cruises ships that experienced an early outbreak of COVID-19, forcing passengers to quarantine during the pandemic's onset in the beginning of March.
The letter Blumenthal and Matsui sent to the CDC Friday isn't the only one the agency has received from Congress.
In September, before extending its order until Oct. 31, the CDC requested that the "no-sail" order be extended to Feb. 15, 2021, but compromised with the White House Task Force to extend it only until Oct. 31, four days before the Nov. 3 election, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY at the time.
As a result, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, has made an official request for records from the CDC. The request came amid circulating allegations that President Donald Trump's administration intervened when the CDC proposed that its "no-sail" order, banning cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers from sailing in U.S. waters be extended into February amid coronavirus pandemic uncertainty.
Blumenthal and Matsui acknowledged that the "Conditional Sailing Order" listed out a "seemingly robust and phased approach to restarting cruise line operations" but said they have concerns that cruising is "simply unsafe during a global pandemic," especially as cases continue to rise across the country, which had seen more than 10.6 million cases and nearly 243,000 deaths by Friday afternoon according to Johns Hopkins data.
The conditional order "lacks efficient specificity and rigor," Blumenthal said, noting that in order for cruising to restart, he believes there needs to be "a much reduced incidence of the disease," "very stiff guidelines and restrictions on the number of people on board" and "routine testing." But most of all, he said, the pandemic "as we know it now" must end before cruise ships can safely sail.
The cruise industry made the call earlier this month to extend its own voluntary pause on operations until 2021. By pushing sailing off until the new year, they will have more time to prepare and align industry protocols with standards in the CDC's new order, which includes test sailings, among other requirements to be completed, before passenger cruises can resume.
In the letter, Blumenthal and Matsui requested a response from Redfield no later than Nov. 27.
"We’ll see massive outbreaks on cruise ships, which will become floating hot spots with major casualties and potential to spread this disease all around the world (if sailing restarts)," Blumenthal said, noting crew members are often from countries around the world and that passengers will return to their communities, potentially further spreading the virus. "The CDC should enforce its 'no-sail' policy, which certainly should not be suspended in the midst of a raging second surge that we’re seeing right now.”
The CDC declined to comment for this story.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC cruise 'no-sail' order should be revived, Blumenthal, Matsui say