Appeals Court Grants Stay, Keeping CDC Cruise Rules in Place in Florida

The courtroom drama surrounding cruise lines, the CDC, and the state of Florida continues to evolve. This time, it was a victory for the health agency over a previously announced lifting of its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) in Florida. As a result, the rules will stay in place for cruise lines as they slowly return to sailing in the United States.

Judges gavel

Recently, the state of Florida filed suit against the CSO guidelines. The guidelines lay out a myriad of rules that cruise lines must follow in order to return, including everything from simulated voyages to masking rules to reporting guidelines for cases on the ship. The state argued that the CDC was overstepping its authority by imposing the rules.

Just weeks ago a judge ruled in Florida’s favor. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday agreed with the state and granted an injunction against the CSO.

While he did give the CDC an opportunity to offer a new set of narrower rules by early July, his decision said that starting July 18 the Conditional Sailing Order would be nothing more than a recommendation instead of a requirement.

As we mentioned at that time, the legal process would continue to play out. Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed to a stay of overturning the order by a 2-1 margin. So for now the Conditional Sailing Order will continue in place.

“Before the Court is Appellants’ ‘Time-Sensitive Motion for Stay Pending Appeal and
Administrative Stay.’ The motion is GRANTED, as Appellants have made the requisite
showing,” the ruling said.

Legal Drama Continues Between Governments and Cruising

This latest ruling is just another step in the ongoing saga that is the return to cruising.

Months ago, cruise lines and the CDC saw tensions rise as the cruise lines argued that the rules put in place were overly burdensome and the health agency was slow in releasing instructions on how to follow the CSO. 

Then came Florida’s suit against the Conditional Sailing Order, which has played out in a back and forth over the past several months that continues today.

And most recently, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) filed suit against the state of Florida over its law that cruise lines can’t require proof of vaccination from passengers.

Cruise lines have largely returned with fully vaccinated sailings (95%+ of passengers with the shot). However, in Florida they have had to adjust their rules to comply with the law and potentially sail with lower vaccination rates.

Instead of requiring the shot, some lines have asked for proof. If someone is not vaccinated or refuses to show proof, then they have tougher restrictions for sailing, including paying for testing, needing travel insurance, and being restricted from some places on the ship. 

Norwegian, however, wants to sail with 100% of passengers and crew vaccinated.

In its filing with the court, the company said it is “in an impossible dilemma as it prepares to set sail from Florida: NCLH will find itself either on the wrong side of health and safety and the operative federal legal framework, or else on the wrong side of Florida law.”

Vaccinations and CDC Rules Appear Needed

Balcony railing

Thus far the cruise lines that have returned to sailing seem to have limited the number of cases on ships thanks to vaccines and the protocols of the CSO.

Case numbers have usually been small when announced. Even so, the virus continues to be an issue on cruise ships, just as it is everywhere. Recently, nearly a quarter of cruise ships planning to sail from the United States were either “orange” or “yellow” according to the CDC’s color-coded scale.

That indicates possible cases of COVID (specific numbers regarding cases on each ship aren’t released), with many coming on vessels that have only crew for the time-being.

In other words, a heavy emphasis on vaccines and the CDC’s rules have kept cases in check so far, but not completely off of cruise ships — even without passengers.

Still, the CDC says that while “cruising is not a zero-risk activity” the agency believes cruises can return safely, with rules in place.

“Due to this thorough and structured process, which allowed ships to develop and assess onboard and shoreside protocols, including comprehensive plans for COVID-19 testing, CDC is confident that cruising can resume safely under the CSO,” the agency says on its website.

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