ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships will remain in place after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging regulations.
The one-paragraph decision of a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed on Saturday at 11:50 p.m., minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling on restrictions from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. effect.
The judge’s granting of a temporary stay keeps CDC’s regulations for Florida-based cruise ships in place, while the CDC is appealing the June ruling of U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.
The lawsuit, defended by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, claims the CDC’s multi-step process to authorize cruises from Florida is too cumbersome, hurting both a multibillion-dollar industry that provides some 159,000 jobs and revenue collected by the State.
A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to an email and text Sunday asking for comment. In the court record, Florida attorneys urged the 11th Circuit to dismiss the CDC’s request to keep its rules intact for now.
“The actions are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this court adjudicates the CDC’s claims on appeal,” the Florida attorneys argued.
The CDC, however, said keeping the rules in place would prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 on ships vulnerable to the spread of the virus due to their proximity 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 reversed,” the CDC said in a court filing.
The CDC first halted cruise ship navigation in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on many ships.
Then, on October 30 of last year, the CDC imposed a four-phase conditional framework that it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met. These included virus mitigation procedures and a simulated cruise to test them before boarding regular passengers.
Merryday’s ruling concluded that the CDC cannot enforce these rules for Florida-based ships and that they should simply be viewed as non-binding recommendations or guidelines. Several cruise lines have started preliminary cruises under these guidelines, which the Tampa judge agreed with Florida are too onerous.
“Florida convincingly states that the conditional navigation order will close most cruises during the summer and possibly much longer,” the judge wrote in June, adding that Florida “faces the prospect of increasingly threatening and imminent that the cruise industry leaves the state ”.
The brief 11th Circuit ruling did not include any opinions from the judges, which the panel said would be released later. The decision noted that an appellate judge was dissenting.
Disney Cruise Lines held its first simulated cruise under CDC rules on Saturday when the Disney Dream departed from Port Canaveral, Florida. The passengers were volunteer employees of Disney.
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