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When will Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis start helping the cruise industry and its customers instead of his presidential campaign?
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last weekend overruled a trial court judge’s decision against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC had issued rules designed to help cruise lines return safely to business after the pandemic idled them in March 2020.
The CDC was acting on behalf of the industry, even if companies complained that the agency was moving too slowly. But at DeSantis’ urging, the state sued, accusing the CDC of overreach. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday ruled for Florida and said that as of last Sunday, the CDC rules should be just recommendations. Then the appeals court sided with the CDC and kept the rules in place.
In its filing, the CDC stated: “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 harm from a massive shipboard outbreak would not end with the public. It would deal a Titanic-sized blow to the industry’s safety-based marketing campaign.
On June 26, Celebrity Edge sailed from Port Everglades. It was the first cruise ship to carry paying passengers since the pandemic began. Many passengers wore T-shirts saying, “Vaccinated and ready to cruise.”
Exactly. The great majority of cruisers favor the CDC’s rules. Ships can make test runs at less than capacity to prove that their COVID-19 protocols work, or they can move to full sailing if 95 percent of passengers and 98 percent of crew members are vaccinated.
That second rule, however, conflicts with Florida’s ban on “vaccination passports” that the Legislature passed after DeSantis issued an executive order. No company, educational institution or government agency in Florida can deny service or entry to the unvaccinated.
Florida is home to the world’s three busiest cruise ports. Each company faces a potential fine of $5,000 per passenger if it seeks proof of vaccination.
Do the cruise lines agree with DeSantis? No. Not one company joined the state’s lawsuit. All have worked with the CDC to develop the return-to-sail guidance.
Seabourn, Carnival’s luxury brand, is doing Caribbean cruises out of Barbados. That country allows Seabourn to follow the 95/98 rule.
Norwegian Cruise Lines sued the state, seeking to overturn the ban on vaccination passports. The suit correctly calls the state law a ”misguided intrusion” into the industry’s collaboration with the CDC.
A responsible governor would have tried to advocate with the CDC on the cruise line’s behalf. But DeSantis – like his patron, Donald Trump – is a frivolous politician whose priority is publicity.
The lawsuit appealed to the anti-science, anti-vaxx Republican base. DeSantis wants those votes when he runs for president, presuming he wins re-election as governor next year.
For the moment, though, DeSantis should be thinking more of Florida and the cruise line employees and contractors who would like to get back to work. As with so many aspects of the pandemic, the economic health of the cruise industry depends on public health.
At the moment, DeSantis’ fecklessness is doing the industry no favors as it seeks to bring business here. Florida leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases, in large part because the state ranks a mediocre 25th in total population that’s fully vaccinated.
On Monday, DeSantis blamed unnamed “quote, unquote, ‘experts’” for creating public resistance to the vaccine. He claimed they dispensed “misinformation and a lot of bad advice.”
In fact, those “experts” generally have been right. Early on, Dr. Anthony Fauci and others advised against wearing masks, wanting to give health care workers priority for the limited supply of PPE.
Soon after, however, the “experts” urged masking and social distancing. They correctly forecast the second and third surges after governors like DeSantis ignored public health advice. The “experts” correctly foresaw that vaccine resistance could prolong the pandemic.
Now those same “experts” are right to say that vaccination requirements are good for cruise lines. The companies agree.
Carnival, one of the two biggest operators at Port Everglades, will require all unvaccinated, Florida-based passengers age 12 and over to provide proof of travel insurance. It must cover at least $10,000 in medical expenses per person and $30,000 for emergency medical evacuation. No COVID-19 exceptions are allowed.
The rules take effect July 31, and Carnival plans to resume sailing Aug. 15. In addition, passengers must pay for COVID-19 tests for everyone in their traveling party, regardless of age. If passengers don’t have insurance, they can’t board and they won’t get refunds.
Royal Caribbean, Port Everglades’ other major cruise operator, is like-minded. Unvaccinated passengers 12 and over must have coverages of at least $25,000 and $50,000.
DeSantis vowed to carry his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. Enough already. Stop the posturing, Governor. Drop the lawsuit. Let companies require vaccinations. Give the cruise lines the sort of help that they want.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, Editorial Writer Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.