MIAMI-DADE, Fla. — A three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a stay keeping pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships.
The CDC was denied its appeal due to a failure “to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal,” according to the court ruling, meaning the CDC’s COVID-19 rules are essentially tossed out in Florida.
The reversal comes nearly a week after the federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulations.
An initial appeal was filed just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restrictions was set to take effect.
“We are pleased with the U.S. Court of Appeals in the 11th Circuit vacating the prior order allowing the preliminary junction to be in place,” a spokesperson from Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office wrote.
The state also asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to stop in and lift federal restrictions on cruise ships. There is no word on when or if the case will be heard.
The lawsuit, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, claims that the CDC’s multiple-step process to allow cruising from Florida is overly burdensome, harming both a multibillion-dollar industry that provides some 159,000 jobs and revenue collected by the state.
“The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this Court sorts out the CDC’s contentions on appeal,” Florida’s lawyers argued.
The CDC, however, said keeping the rules in place would prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of their close quarters and frequent stops at foreign ports.
“The undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone,” the CDC said in a court filing.
The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships.
Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met. Those included virus mitigation procedures and a simulated cruise to test them before embarking regular passengers.
Merryday’s decision concluded that the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they should merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines. Several cruise lines have begun preliminary cruises under those guidelines, which the Tampa judge agreed with Florida are too onerous.
“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote in June, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”
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