CDC appeals DeSantis lawsuit; U.S. court upholds cruise requirements for now

Jul 18, 2021

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements that have allowed some cruise ships to resume sailings from the United States will remain in place for now, pending the results of an appeal filed by the CDC, a U.S. appellate court says.

July 17 motion of stay granted (Screenshot courtesy of PACER)

In a 2-to-1 vote Saturday, the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Circuit granted a stay that will, at least temporarily, allow the CDC to continue requiring cruise lines to operate from Florida under the agency’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order restrictions.

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The order, which replaced the CDC’s No-Sail Order in late 2020, requires vessels departing from the U.S. to sail with at least 95% of passengers fully vaccinated. Lines not committing to reaching that threshold must submit to test sailings that allow CDC officials to walk through protocols with officers and crew on each individual ship before it’s allowed to sail.

In April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sued the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to have the conditional sailing order removed and jumpstart cruise industry operations. In June, District Judge Steven D. Merryday, who presides over the Middle District of Florida, ruled in favor of Florida, granting DeSantis a win and slapping the CDC with an injunction, effective July 18.

June 18 injunction granted (Screenshot courtesy of PACER)

On July 6, 12 days before the conditional sailing order was set to roll back under Merryday’s ruling, the CDC and HHS filed an appeal and requested a motion to stay. The U.S. appellate court’s granting of the stay essentially freezes rollback of the CDC’s cruise requirements until the appeal can be fully heard.

It’s important to note that this does not affect the ability of currently operating cruise ships to continue sailing, nor does it prevent scheduled test voyages from taking place. What it does mean is that regulations — such as testing and mask wearing — on certain ships will continue to remain in place, pre-cruise and onboard, until either the CDC changes its mind or loses the appeal.

Cruise lines that are sailing at least 95% vaccinated, including Carnival and Celebrity, are not requiring vaccinated passengers to wear masks onboard anyway, and on sailings from Florida, they aren’t currently allowed to ask for vaccine verification.

Additionally, Royal Caribbean, which has completed test sailings in order to sail with a larger number of unvaccinated passengers, has created “vaccinated only” spaces where inoculated cruisers are able to remove their masks indoors.

Official court documents for the stay say that one judge dissented, and opinions will follow.

Featured photo by TAMI CHAPPELL/AFP via Getty Images.

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