Federal judge denies CDC request to keep COVID-19 cruise rules during appeal

Federal judge denies CDC request to keep COVID-19 cruise rules during appeal
·4 min read

A federal judge denied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s request to keep their COVID-19 precautions in place for cruise lines looking to sail from U.S. ports this summer.

The federal agency wanted the judge to stay the preliminary injunction granted against the CDC after Gov. Ron DeSantis sued over an order that would complicate how cruise ships resume sailing during the pandemic.

U.S. Federal District Judge Steven Merryday’s decision means that by July 18 cruise ships will not have to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols for its passengers or employees. The CDC’s precautions will be nothing more than recommendations for any cruise line to follow, or not follow, as they see fit.

The judge called the CDC’s request for the safety protocols to remain in effect “unpersuasive” in his three-page order Wednesday.

“Although CDC invariably garnishes the argument with dire prospects of ‘transmission’ of COVID-19 aboard a cruise vessel, these dark allusions dismiss state and local health authorities, the industry’s self-regulation, and the thorough and costly preparations and accommodations by all concerned to avoid ‘transmission’ and to confine and control the ‘transmission,’ if one occurs,” Merryday wrote. “In other words, CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power.”

In June, Merryday granted a preliminary injunction to the state that prevented the CDC from enforcing its protocols past July 18. The judge concluded that Florida was likely to win against the CDC in the lawsuit that challenged the federal agency’s conditional sailing order.

“This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to the CDC,” Merryday wrote in his 124-page decision in June.

In its request for the stay of the injunction pending appeal, the CDC said that by keeping its safety protocols for cruises in place, it was not shutting the cruise industry down but rather providing a framework for them to continue operating safely during the pandemic.

The agency also argued that it believes it could win in appeals court, despite the opinion of Merryday, due to its long-standing history of requiring foreign ships operating in U.S. waters to comply with safety precautions to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

“Here, 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’s request for the stay pending appeal says. “Cruise ships are uniquely situated to spread COVID-19, due in part to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods, and stops at foreign ports that risk introducing new variants of COVID-19 into the United States.”

The CDC issued its conditional sailing order in October 2020 in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships and from the ships into communities. The order created a four-phased approach for cruises to follow to resume sailing that included things like testing all staff on the ship, developing capacity for widespread testing of passengers, implement routine testing of all crew members and restricted voyage lengths and testing requirements for passengers.

DeSantis originally filed the lawsuit against the CDC for the conditional sailing order in April, claiming the agency’s order has hindered businesses and contributed to the state’s unemployment rate, among other things.

The CDC filed to appeal Merryday’s preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Tuesday.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said Merryday’s decision Wednesday comes at no surprise after his 124-page decision favored Florida. Wednesday’s denial to the CDC shows he believes the state will win in the case, essentially having “slammed the door on [the CDC.]”

“It’s obvious that Merryday having written a 124-page opinion, there really was nothing more for him to do, and there was nothing in that opinion that suggested to a reasonable observer that his mind was open, that he was willing to consider additional arguments,” Jarvis said.

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