Judge blocks CDC from enforcing virus rules for Florida cruise ships

A federal judge ruled Friday that as of July 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would no longer be allowed to enforce its rules aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus on cruise ships in Florida.

In his decision, Judge Steven D. Merryday of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Florida granted Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing the CDC from enforcing the rules at Florida ports, ruling that ‘they were based on “outdated data”. and did not take into account the prevalence of effective vaccines.

The judge said that from July 18, the rules “will persist as a non-binding ‘consideration’, ‘recommendation’ or ‘guideline’, the same tools used by the CDC to address practices in other industries. located in the same situation, such as airlines. , railways, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways and more.

The move was a victory for Florida, a hub of the cruise industry, which challenged the rules in April, arguing they were crippling the industry and costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Judge Merryday said more than 13 million cruise passengers and crew members embarked and disembarked in Florida and frequented Florida businesses in 2019.

Florida also argued that the CDC overstepped its authority and acted “in an arbitrary and capricious manner” when it released the rules last year.

“Today’s decision is a victory for hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” State Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “The federal government does not, and never should, have the power to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely. “

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the decision “a victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry and for every state that wishes to uphold its rights in the face of unprecedented federal reach.”

“The CDC was wrong from the start, and they knew it,” he said in a statement.

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday evening. In his ruling, Judge Merryday gave the agency until July 2 to propose a “narrower injunction” that would allow cruise ships to navigate in a timely manner.

At issue in the Florida lawsuit in April was a “conditional navigation order” issued by the CDC that went into effect on October 30 and sought to safely reopen the cruise industry in a four-phase framework. after months in which cruise ships had been docked in ports.

The first phase required cruise ship operators to build a laboratory onboard each ship to test crew members. In the second phase, operators were to take each cruise ship on a simulated trip to assess the Covid-19 mitigation measures on board the operator.

Phase three required a “conditional navigation certificate” from CDC before a cruise ship operator could embark on a passenger voyage. During phase four, operators were permitted to conduct “restricted passenger journeys” under certain conditions, including a limit of seven days on the duration of each journey.

The CDC had argued that imposing the rules was within its authority and that the rules were based on “reasoned decision-making” and reasonable conclusions, “especially in view of the extraordinary deference” that the agency was owed when ‘a public health emergency.

The agency had also argued that preventing future Covid-19 infections on board cruises outweighed any economic damage to Florida.

Judge Merryday, however, wrote that Covid “no longer threatens public health to the same extent presented at the onset of the pandemic or when the CDC issued the conditional navigation order.”

“In fact, the CDC’s conditional departure order relies on obsolete data obtained to justify the no-sail orders when the danger posed by Covid-19 was qualitatively and quantitatively different from today,” said writes Judge Merryday. “Conversely, the injury to Florida and the injury to the Florida economy are increasing day by day.”

Judge Merryday wrote that cruise ships “now sail safely around the world with protocols designed to minimize the spread of Covid-19”. Since July 2020, he writes, more than 400,000 people have cruised abroad. In Europe, he wrote, thousands of people are cruising “free from debilitating Covid-19 infections”.

“The availability of vaccines and tests and the relatively insignificant incidence of infection on overseas cruises – all quickly identified and contained – encourage optimism about the safety of shipping operations in the United States, which benefit from high vaccination rates and greatly improved on-board containment mechanisms. ,” he wrote.

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