The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is appealing a Florida ruling that would remove health restrictions on cruise ships returning to service after the long pandemic shutdown.
The CDC defended the guidelines and requirements contained in its ‘Conditional Sailing Order’ (CSO), arguing that it was developed in close collaboration with cruise lines.
“It does not shut down the cruise industry but instead provides a sensible, flexible framework for reopening, based on the best available scientific evidence,” Department of Justice lawyers wrote in the appeal filing on behalf of the CDC.
Three weeks ago, a judge granted the State of Florida a preliminary injunction that would prohibit the CDC from enforcing the CSO on cruise ships arriving or departing from a Florida port. The injunction was set to take effect July 18, after which date CDC rules would become non-binding recommendations.
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Attorneys representing the public health agency have requested a stay of the injunction while the appeal process moves forward.
In mid-March 2020, the CDC first issued a “No Sail Order,” prohibiting cruise ships sailing from any U.S. ports, as the COVID-19 health crisis bloomed into a global pandemic. After multiple extensions, the order was lifted on October 31, 2020. It was replaced by the CSO, which has since been altered numerous times as the situation evolved.
The original lawsuit was launched by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in April. It claimed the agency was unfairly targeting the cruise industry with rules not faced by other businesses, slowing the industry’s restart process, keeping people out of work, and preventing the state from collecting tax revenue.
Florida attorneys also said the CDC was overstepping its authority and slow to respond to new developments including vaccines.
Judge Stephen Merryday first ordered the two parties to seek a solution through mediation. When that process ended without success, he issued the decision now being appealed.
In the meantime, Governor DeSantis signed a law banning businesses based in Florida from requiring customers to reveal their vaccination status.
In its appeal, the CDC claims Florida is the one disrupting a safe return to service.
“The injunction — together with Florida’s refusal to allow cruise lines to verify the vaccination status of their passengers — will disrupt the orderly process for resuming operations that the CDC developed in close consultation with the cruise industry,” the appeal filing stated.
The CDC called the Conditional Sailing Order “an important tool in ensuring that cruise ship operations do not exacerbate the spread of dangerous variants during this inflection point in the pandemic.”
It added: “Undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone.”
With terrible memories of outbreaks on ships at the beginning of the pandemic, cruise lines are determined to take every precaution to restart safely.
As Orlando Martinez wrote recently on Cruise Radio: “Headlines proclaiming another ‘sick’ cruise ship unable to find a port would cause a damaging — perhaps even fatal — public relations blow to the cruise industry. It’s likely cruise operators will do what they can to prevent another incident.”
In recent weeks, the U.S. cruise industry, including in Florida, has begun to resume operations. Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean have all launched ships from the state. To get around the law forbidding vaccination requirements, cruise lines are asking passengers to voluntarily indicate their vaccination status or else agree to testing and restrictions on the ship.
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