Federal judge denies CDC request to force coronavirus restrictions on cruise ships
07/16/2021 // Nolan Barton // Views

A federal judge on Wednesday, July 7, denied the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions in place on cruise ships departing from Florida.

District Judge Steven Merryday's decision means that by July 18, cruise ships will not have to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols for their passengers or employees. The CDC's precautions will be nothing more than recommendations for any cruise line to follow, or not follow, as they see fit.

The judge called the CDC's request for the safety protocols to remain in effect "unpersuasive" in his three-page order. The CDC had earlier asked for a stay to the injunction on its conditional sail order.

"Although CDC invariably garnishes the argument with dire prospects of 'transmission' of COVID-19 aboard a cruise vessel, these dark allusions dismiss state and local health authorities, the industry's self-regulation and the thorough and costly preparations and accommodations by all concerned to avoid 'transmission' and to confine and control the 'transmission,' if one occurs," Merryday wrote.

"In other words, CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power."

The ruling was a victory for Florida, a cruise industry hub. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis argued that the CDC rules were crippling the industry and causing the state to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. More than 13 million cruise passengers and crew members had embarked and disembarked in Florida and patronized Florida's businesses in 2019.


Just last month, Merryday granted Florida's request for a preliminary injunction that prevented the CDC from enforcing its protocols past July 18. The judge concluded that Florida was likely to win against the CDC in the lawsuit that challenged the federal agency's conditional sailing order.

"This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC's conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to the CDC," Merryday wrote in his 124-page decision in June.

CDC thinks it can win in appeals court

In its request for the stay of the injunction pending appeal, the CDC said that it believes it could win in appeals court, despite the opinion of Merryday, due to its long-standing history of requiring foreign ships operating in U.S. waters to comply with safety precautions to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

The federal agency also argued that by keeping its safety protocols for cruises in place, it was not shutting the cruise industry down but rather providing a framework for them to continue operating safely during the pandemic.

"Here, the 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 CDC's request for the stay pending appeal stated. "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 United States."

The CDC filed to appeal Merryday's preliminary injunction to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Tuesday, July 6.

In October last year, the CDC issued its conditional sailing order in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships and from the ships into communities. (Related: CDC issues new framework to allow cruise ships to sail again.)

The order created a four-phased approach for cruises to follow to resume sailing that included testing all staff on the ship, developing capacity for widespread testing of passengers, implementing routine tests for all crew members and restricting voyage lengths.

DeSantis originally filed the lawsuit against the CDC for the conditional sailing order in April, claiming the agency's order has hindered businesses and contributed to the state’s unemployment rate.

Follow Pandemic.news for more news and information related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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