U.S. Circuit Court reverses course on COVID-19 cruise ship regulations, lifting CDC’s safety measures– again

In what some observers are comparing to a game of ping-pong, things have changed again for the cruise industry in Florida.

The same Eleventh Circuit panel that reinstated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions on the cruise industry on July 17, reversed course one week later, allowing a Florida federal judge’s decision lifting the restrictions to go into effect, reports Hospitality Law 360.

Judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta reversed their earlier decision, siding with the state and ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot impose COVID-19 safety rules on cruises sailing from Florida ports this summer.

The ruling was a victory for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who first filed the lawsuit against the CDC in April. Since then the courts have gone back and forth in decisions, siding first with the CDC and then with the state.

The state has argued the CDC’s COVID-19 safety measures for cruise ships have harmed Florida’s economy and contributed to unemployment rates, and that the CDC’s requirements were unconstitutional and the agency was overstepping its bounds.

The Governor has gone so far as to threaten substantial fines to cruise lines that demand passengers be vaccinated before sailing.

A Federal judge in June granted a preliminary injunction against the CDC’s measures, siding with Florida. His ruling meant that the CDC measures would become recommendations rather than rules by July 18. The July 17 ruling reinstated the health restrictions, but last week’s decision agreed with the original ruling that the CDC could not enforce its COVID safety rules on cruise ships in Florida.

Meanwhile, most cruise lines have been working to meet the CDC requirements and have adopted stringent industry-wide health and safety protocols.

To further complicate the situation, Florida is currently experiencing one of the highest increases in COVID-19 cases in the country.

UPDATE: Both Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean, among other cruise lines, have indicated that they will continue to voluntarily follow all CDC guidelines and recommendations, especially since the protocols instill public confidence in cruising. Seatrade Cruise News reports that while the CDC’s conditional sailing order may be non-binding in Florida now, ships are still subject to inspection to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like COVID-19 and may be detained.