CDC changing guidelines for cruises, air travel over virus concerns

We already learned that the CDC has been issuing revised guidance for students planning spring break trips or studies abroad, particularly in Italy. (And Italy is one of the most popular countries to study abroad, besides being a very popular vacation spot.) But now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also updated their guidance for air travel and cruise ships. They are advising people – particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems – to avoid such modes of travel as much as possible until this coronavirus thing has been gotten under control. (Politico)

New guidance from the CDC urges travelers, especially the elderly and those with compromised health, to avoid long plane trips “and especially” cruises — a stark shift in rhetoric from an administration that had previously appeared reluctant to discourage Americans from moving around the globe.

The CDC now recommends that travelers “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide” and notes that “cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.” The State Department on Sunday also recommended against cruise travel, citing an increased risk of coronavirus infection, and issued a warning that citizens should not rely on repatriation flights “as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”

The new CDC guidance, coupled with the State Department warning, suggests a seismic shift coming for the cruise industry in particular, which depends heavily on American tourists, and disproportionately older ones.

Thanks, guys! Where were you with this advice before we went to CPAC? (Insert grumbling noises here.) And for those of you who have been asking, no. I haven’t developed any symptoms thus far. And yes. I have stayed in my home and avoided contact with anyone else ever since we got the news. We’re having our groceries delivered by a local service company and left on the porch.

Getting back to this CDC update, you’ll note the special emphasis they put on cruises… “and especially cruises.” One would think that all of the news stories flooding the airwaves about quarantine ships around the world would already have steered people away from such plans, but I suppose it’s still worth making it official.

As you might expect, the cruise line industry is pushing back on this news. The Cruise Lines International Association released a statement saying, “singling out the travel and tourism industry, and cruise lines specifically is unreasonable and unwarranted.” From a purely capitalist perspective, I can sort of understand that type of reaction, but unless they have some sort of protocol in place to fully test everyone getting aboard the ship, that sounds needlessly risky. And I would imagine that they are actually losing money on every ship that gets tied up offshore with a quarantine on them anyway.

The cruise ship industry is particularly vulnerable when you consider that roughly a quarter of the people taking cruises are in their 60s or older. And that’s the age group that has thus far been most likely to produce fatalities when infected with the virus. Hence the CDC warning about seniors taking cruises.

But this is only one example of the broad disruptions we can expect for some time to come until the coronavirus runs its course. No matter if the mortality rate shoots up or remains where it is now, people are justifiably worried and that’s impacting nearly all aspects of the economy. Travel will be impacted (obviously) but also retail sales, aside from the basic survival stuff that people are currently stockpiling. Every business that closes down temporarily or cuts back because of the virus will result in less productivity and lost wages for workers. It’s already a global phenomenon.

Keeping an eye on the comments section here, I’m aware that a significant number of you are still writing off the coronavirus as a nothingburger that won’t affect the world any more than the flu, or perhaps even less. That may still be possible, but that’s not how the medical community is seeing it and it’s far from reaching its peak in the United States yet. For the doubters, I sincerely hope that you’re right, but I don’t think we’re nearly out of the woods yet. And even if this doesn’t turn into a mass pandemic with high mortality rates, the impact on the global (and American) economy will be felt for some time to come.