Florida won a temporary freeze on a set of CDC coronavirus rules for the cruise industry, potentially easing the companies’ path back to the sea.
The preliminary injunction against the recent restrictions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bars the CDC from enforcing its “conditional sailing order” at ports in Florida. But U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday put the injunction on hold until July 18 and gave the CDC until July 2 to propose a narrower order.
The CDC set a strict protocol for cruise lines, with guidelines on masks and other matters. Before they can sail again, the lines must ensure that 95% of passengers and crew members are vaccinated or run “simulated voyages” to prove the safety of their vessels.
The agency didn’t immediately respond to an email sent to its media relations office seeking comment on the ruling. The office was closed Friday in observance of the federal Juneteenth holiday.
“The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement Friday.
Breaking an Impasse
When Florida sued the CDC on April 8, cruise lines seemed to be at an impasse with the agency over their efforts to return to the seas, complaining they had been singled out for the strictest treatment even as other tourism and hospitality businesses returned to a semblance of their pre-pandemic activities. The industry has been essentially on hold since March 2020, when a series of outbreaks at sea led to an outright suspension of sailing with passengers.
But less than a month after the Florida lawsuit, the tensions cooled when the CDC published a clear set of guidelines under the conditional sailing order, which outlined a path for renewed cruises. According to the CDC, more than a dozen voyages have already been approved under the guidelines. Many companies were hopeful that much of their fleets would be up and running again by the end of year.
Still, at least one key obstacle remained. Florida recently approved a law, effective next month, that bans “vaccine passports,” in which businesses require proof of Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of service. That seemed to directly conflict with the CDC’s 95% vaccination condition, one of the two possible paths to resumption of service.
The first test cruise is set to depart from the Miami area on Sunday, and the first revenue-earning paid cruise is set to sail June 26. Both will be operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. from ports in Florida.
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