A federal appeals court ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can no longer enforce COVID-19 cruise ship restrictions in Florida.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta voted 2 - 1 Saturday to block the lower court decision that decimated the cruise industry amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Reuters. The ruling came soon after the state of Florida filed with the Supreme Court an emergency petition requesting that the high court lift the appeals court order. Government officials warned that further inaction would "all but guaranteed to lose yet another summer cruise season while the CDC pursues its appeal," the state said in its filing to the Supreme Court.
The news is considered both a win for Florida's economy as well as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who has been a vocal critic of the CDC's restrictions.
Fox Business reported that DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw responded to the news with a photo of the court document that said, "Winning."
In May, the CDC approved some cruise operations following extensive talks with the industry on health and safety protocols. Operations were suspended in March 2020. In June, federal District Judge Steven Merryday sided with Republican-led Florida, finding that the state was "highly likely" to demonstrate the CDC exceeded its authority in its continued enforcement of rules on cruise ship sailing. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office said the state is pleased the appeals court lifted "the prior order allowing the preliminary injunction to be in place."
Florida cruise ships remain privy to ship inspections and must continue to employ sanitary measures to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases, the CDC said in a press statement on Friday, adding that it must report all COVID-19 cases and deaths incurred on the cruise.
The CDC also issued a conditional sail order in response to the court ruling Saturday, stating that at least 95 percent of passengers and most of the crew need to be vaccinated to bypass simulated voyages and resume commercial trips quicker. The conditional sail order "represents the most effective way of continuing to protect the public's health," the CDC said, adding that the national public health agency "remain[s] committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners" to ensure the safe resumption of operations.
Vaccinated travelers also do not need masks inside common spaces. Masks are optional in outdoor areas on cruise ships.
The Cruise Lines International Association did not publicly disclose its thoughts on Florida's legal challenge but said it would continue to adopt CDC requirements. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd has sued Florida, stating that state law prevented the disclosure of COVID-19 documentation and "from safely and soundly resuming passenger cruise operations" from Miami starting on Aug. 15.