A federal judge said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot enforce the rules and restrictions it designed to make cruise travel safer amid the pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted the state of Florida a preliminary injunction against the health agency, writing that the state was “highly likely” to prevail in its suit, which argues that the agency exceeded its authority by issuing a framework of rules on how to reopen.
Instead, the judge ruled, beginning on July 18 the CDC’s rules for operating cruise ships must be considered nonbinding guidelines or recommendations.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) claimed the ruling as a victory.
“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” he said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.
The agency had told cruise ship operators they first needed to build onboard laboratories to process coronavirus tests. Next, the companies needed to complete a simulated cruise on each ship to demonstrate COVID-19 prevention strategies, and make plans ahead of time with health care providers in port cities in case someone onboard came down with the virus.
The CDC would issue a “conditional sailing certificate” to individual ships that could show they planned to sail with at least 95% of passengers vaccinated against COVID-19.
The agency had argued that the threat of unchecked COVID-19 spread outweighed any economic injury to the state caused by the restrictions, and that cruise ships were poised to create superspreader events unless handled with care.
In Florida, around 44% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The CDC had issued a series of “no sail orders” from mid-March 2020 through October 2020 amid increasing concern over the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the earliest cases in the United States were detected on a cruise ship docked off the coast.
At the end of October, the CDC laid out a plan to safely resume cruises; Florida filed suit in April following industry complaints.