Judge Denies Request From CDC To Maintain COVID-19 Cruise Rules in Place During Appeal

Kimberly Redmond  |

Image source: Carnival Cruise Line

A federal judge denied a request from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to keep its COVID-19-related public health measures for cruises in effective in Florida past July 18.

US District Judge Steven Merryday of the Middle District of Florida originally ruled against the CDC last month, issuing a preliminary injunction that will turn the agency’s conditional sailing order into non-binding recommendations on July 18.

On Tuesday, the CDC appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and asked Merryday to lift the injunction while the case goes through the appeal process.

Removing the regulations set out in the conditional sail order — rules for cruise companies wishing to resume voyages in the US — “places the public at risk, undermines public confidence in the ability of cruise ship operators to mitigate COVID-19 and jeopardizes cruise industry plans for a safe restart,” the CDC said.

In his decision Wednesday, Merryday called the CDC’s argument “unpersuasive” and said the agency “can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power.” 

“The CDC fails to demonstrate that denial of the stay will injure materially CDC or the United States, any third party or the public,” Merrday wrote. “This action is about the use and misuse of governmental power.”

Merryday has been on the Florida court since being nominated in 1992 by President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Merryday’s ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit against the agency brought by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, said the CDC overstepped its authority in requiring cruise lines to adhere to the conditional sail order before hitting the high seas with paying passengers. 

Under the CDC’s framework, cruise ships can either run a simulated voyage to test the effectiveness of safety protocols or require at least 95% of both crew and passengers to be fully vaccinated before receiving the OK to resume normal cruises. The order remains in effect until Nov. 1.

Florida, the biggest embarkation point for cruises in the US, is home to the headquarters and key infrastructure of several major cruise ship operators. Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, one of the state’s biggest industries has been a standstill. 

The Miami Herald noted that some cruise lines have already begun operating again under the CDC's regulations, with one ship with paying customers leaving a US port for the first time in 15 months. 

More cruises are planning to set sail from Florida, Texas and Alaska in coming months, according to Fox News

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