Court Upholds CDC’s Right To Regulate Cruise Ship Operations Amid COVID-19

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A panel of judges of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last night ruled in favor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s position in its ongoing legal battle with the state of Florida over the agency’s right to impose COVID-19 regulations on the cruise ship industry.

Yesterday’s decision stays Federal District Judge Steven Merryday’s previously June 19 injunction order against the CDC, which would have prevented the public health agency from enforcing its Conditional Sail Order (CSO) in Florida. This would have rendered the comprehensive framework of regulations set out in the CSO, intended to steer the safe restart of cruise ship operations, mere recommendations for cruise lines to follow, rather than requirements.

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USA Today reported that the panel’s two-to-one vote was handed down Saturday night only minutes before midnight—just before Florida’s injunction against the CDC was set to go into effect.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis first filed a lawsuit against the CDC back in April over what he called the “unlawful” shutdown of the cruise sector amid COVID-19, arguing that the federal agency had overstepped its authority and angry at the prospect of losing state revenues generated by the multi-billion-dollar cruise industry as the summer season approached.

He also issued an executive order creating a law that prohibits Florida businesses, including cruise lines, from requesting evidence of vaccination from their customers. This forced multiple major cruise lines, which had originally announced that they would require all eligible passengers to be vaccinated prior to sailing when cruises restarted, to alter their rules for Florida departures.

That is, except for Norwegian Cruise Line, which declared that it would transfer its operations out of Florida if DeSantis persisted in his efforts to cripple the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order. Norwegian had actually filed court papers in support of the CDC’s rules, which were developed in close cooperation with major cruise lines. And, only days ago, Norwegian actually filed its own lawsuit against Florida to retake the right to require that eligible passengers be fully vaccinated when it resumes operations in August.

The CDC lodged its appeal against Merryday’s injunction against its framework for the safe restart of cruise operations on July 6, defending the CSO and saying, “It does not shut down the cruise industry but instead provides a sensible, flexible framework for reopening, based on the best available scientific evidence.” It argued, “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.”

The agency also warned against the potential dangers of DeSantis’ new law forbidding cruise lines to request proof of vaccination, explaining: “Cruise ships are uniquely situated to spread COVID-19, due in part to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods, and stops at foreign ports that risk introducing new variants of Covid-19 into the U.S.”





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