To hear Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tell it, David took down Goliath hard yesterday when a federal judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) can’t prevent cruise ships from sailing out of Florida if they don’t follow its coronavirus-related rules. In an effort to keep massive numbers of passengers from contracting and spreading COVID-19 the CDC had told operators they either had to have a 95 percent vaccination rate for those on board or do a test cruise to prove that they could safely mitigate the spread of the virus.
The Republican governor, who has argued against most federal government regulations and advice throughout the pandemic, sued the CDC and basically said cruise ships in his state could do whatever they wanted. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday decided that the government agency’s conditions for industry should be viewed as “non-binding considerations, recommendations, or guidelines” rather than hard and fast rules. He also ordered that the CDC and the state of Florida continue negotiations to jointly develop procedures for the cruise industry to follow.
At best the ruling was on a minor procedural matter, but that didn’t prevent the attention-hungry DeSantis from puffing out his chest and declaring the judge’s decision a “major victory.” In a statement he alleged that the CDC was trying to “sink” the cruise industry. “Today, we are securing this victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry, and for every state that wants to preserve its rights in the face of unprecedented federal overreach,” he said.
Cruise ship operators have been eager to get back underway and have spent much of the past year trying to figure out how to do so safely as the world begins to turn the corner on the coronavirus pandemic. But the difficulty of keeping the coronavirus off ships became evident in recent days when Royal Caribbean International postponed one of its first U.S. cruises after eight crew members tested positive for the virus before they were fully vaccinated. And, last week, two passengers sharing a room on a cruise out of St. Maarten tested positive despite a requirement that all adults be fully vaccinated.