When cruise ships leave Florida ports over the next few months, some will not require passengers to get the most effective pandemic life jacket available – a Covid-19 vaccination.
This is because of new legislation signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that prohibits companies from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. The law takes effect Thursday and opponents say it could threaten the recovery of an industry vital to the state’s economy, in addition to making it difficult for cruise lines to put teeth into vaccination recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
At least 10 major cruise lines are headquartered in Florida, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Disney Cruise Line.
Celebrity Cruises has dropped its requirement that passengers from Florida must show proof of their shots. Royal Caribbean requires proof at some ports, but none in Florida, and this week introduced a requirement that complicates travel for unvaccinated people: these passengers must show proof of travel insurance.
Despite the law, two of the largest cruise lines, Carnival and Norwegian, have decided to impose proof of vaccination requirements, according to information posted on their websites. Violations of Florida law are subject to a maximum penalty of $ 5,000 per violation.
“No business is above the law,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in an email. “Some of the larger cruise lines have revised their policies, and we expect others to follow their example. “
When asked how Carnival intended to handle Florida’s new law, a spokesperson did not comment on the decision to waive the law and instead referred NBC News to its frequently asked questions page, which states that “guests will be asked to confirm their status as fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and provide proof of vaccination before boarding”, unless a vaccination waiver is given in advance.
Norwegian, which requires guests to bring proof of vaccination, responded to inquiries with a link to its latest press release in early June on upcoming trips to the United States.
Democrats have denounced the new law and accused DeSantis of harming both public health and the cruise industry.
“The governor is dictatorially imposing his will on Florida businesses that try to protect their customers, including cruise lines on which our agriculture industry depends for millions of food sales,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement to NBC News.
Fried, a Democrat, is running to topple DeSantis in next year’s election.
Pushaw said the governor’s decree shouldn’t scare off travelers at sea.
“It is almost unheard of for a vaccinated person to fall seriously ill with Covid-19,” she said in an email. “Therefore, people who are vaccinated should not be afraid of being infected by those who are not. “
When DeSantis signed a law banning what he called “vaccine passports” in May, he said, “In Florida, your personal choice regarding immunizations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services on the Internet. the basis of your decision.
Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, called Florida “the heart and soul of the cruise world.”
“Before the pandemic, the industry directly and indirectly supported nearly 160,000 jobs in Florida. “
In 2019, 8.3 million of the 13.8 million people who boarded a cruise ship in the United States did so in Florida, Golin-Blaugrund added.
But Florida is not the only port of call for the cruise ship industry, and an NBC News survey of 17 lines serving the United States found that four of them were not following the recommendations of the CDC that all eligible crew and passengers were getting vaccinated:, Costa Cruises, based in Italy, and MSC Cruises and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, based in Switzerland.
American operates smaller ships for less than 250 passengers and is not subject to the same cruise line regulations as the large operators.
“The rapid progress in vaccinations in the United States is very positive as we consider the resumption of cruises,” said MSC President Rubén Rodríguez.
MSC has been operating in Europe since last summer with tens of thousands of guests, vaccinated or not, he said.
“MSC Cruises is a very inclusive family brand, and we want to welcome all guests, including children and adults who have not been vaccinated for medical or other reasons,” said Rodríguez.
Another company, Holland America Line, requires passengers to get vaccinated before boarding, but has also said this requirement is “subject to change.” Royal Caribbean International requires vaccinations for passengers, but only if they depart from these four ports: Seattle; Galveston, Texas; Nassau, Bahamas; and Limassol, Cyprus.
While Golin-Blaugrund said her industry is “overwhelming in favor of the vaccine,” she added that since children under 12 do not have access to Covid-19 vaccines, “100% vaccination does not just isn’t an option for families ”.
The CDC has proposed two ways to re-certify cruise ships given these limitations: reach the vaccination threshold of 95% for passengers and 95% for crew members, or have cruise ships test. their protocols before travel.
“This route requires simulated voyages, or test crossings, with volunteer passengers before these ships can obtain the conditional navigation certificate necessary to resume commercial operations from US ports,” said Golin-Blaugrund.
Yet even though these test cruises resumed last month in US waters, outbreaks of Covid-19 have already been reported on ships not regulated by the CDC.
Two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium, which departed Saint-Martin in the Caribbean on June 5 and which was supposed to be a “fully vaccinated” ship, have tested positive for Covid-19. It is operated by Celebrity, which is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean has also delayed the inaugural navigation of its Odyssey of the Seas cruise ship after eight crew members tested positive for Covid-19 last month.
Disney delayed a boating test this week after inconsistent Covid-19 test results. Also this week, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line postponed its restart after a crew member on board tested positive for Covid-19.