Push back against CDC cruise ban gains Capitol Hill support

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Florida’s two U.S. senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, along with Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, have introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act. The legislation would revoke the CDC’s current No Sail Order on cruises and require the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to resume safe domestic operations. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar is introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Florida is a tourism state with thousands of jobs relying on the success of our ports, cruise lines and maritime industries,” said Senator Scott. “While many sectors of the economy have been safely operating for months under CDC guidelines, Floridians, and those across the nation that rely on the cruise industry for work, continue to wait for updated guidance from the CDC. The CDC’s refusal to properly address this shutdown is wrong and it’s time to get the cruise lines open safely.”

“Unlike the airlines, rail, and other modes of transportation—and all other sectors of the hospitality industry for that matter—the cruise lines have been denied clear direction from the CDC on how to resume operations” said Senator Sullivan. “As a result, potential cruises this summer, when the President said the country will be able to return to normal with more and more Americans getting vaccinated, have been left adrift. The foot-dragging, mixed messages, and unresponsiveness of CDC leaders is totally unacceptable and ultimately endangering the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the hundreds of small businesses across Alaska that rely on the tourism sector.”

The CRUISE Act:

  • Requires the CDC to issue recommendations for how to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 to passengers and crew onboard cruise ships.
  • Establishes an interagency “Working Group” that will develop recommendations to facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States. The recommendations will facilitate the resumption of passenger cruise ship operations in the United States no later than July 4, 2021.
  • No later than July 4, 2021, the CDC must revoke the order entitled “Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew.”
  • Ensures that HHS and CDC retain all appropriate authorities to make and enforce regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases on any individual cruise ship.

FLORIDA GOVERNOR OPPOSES VACCINATION REQUIREMENTS

Introduction of the CRUISE Act follows last week’s announcement by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that the state is suing the Biden Administration in federal district court to overturn the “Conditional Sailing Order” (CSO) for cruise ships enacted by the CDC.

Florida’s decision to file suit followed a March 31 meeting at which which Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis E. Sola briefed Gov. DeSantis on his Fact Finding 30 investigation of COVID-19 related impacts to the cruise industry and what he envisions as ways to allow for the safe resumption of passenger vessel operations.

Commissioner Sola spelled out how vaccinations, sanitation, and coordination can create the conditions that would permit cruise ships to begin sailing again. Commissioner Sola also proposed that Port Canaveral be designated as a port where vaccines are made available to the crews of any cargo or cruise commercial vessel calling on Florida ports. Under Commissioner Sola’s proposal, vaccinations would be only offered to vessel crews once Florida realizes a surplus of vaccines.

Seemingly, the vaccine part of the proposal fell on deaf ears as far as Gov. DeSantis was concerned.

He recently issued an executive order barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccination and, on Monday, April 12, his press office issued a statement saying that the executive order “provides that businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business, Therefore, the Executive Order prohibits cruise lines from requiring vaccine passports for their Florida operations.”

DeSantis’s position on vaccinations puts him at odds with steps being taken by multiple stakeholders to pave the way to a safe resumption of cruising.

Commissioner Sola has recently held meetings with local government officials and industry executives in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Cape Canaveral. In those sessions, , Sola was shown the preparations already made to support resumed cruises. It was demonstrated that each port was ready to provide onsite testing; that they have protocols and plans in place to evacuate, isolate, and treat any passengers in need of medical assistance; and that they have coordinated with appropriate authorities and partners to provide vaccinations. Sola noted that these preparations comport with his “Cruise Forward” concept (see earlier story), which consists of three steps that will allow for the resumption of cruising with vaccinations playing an important role.

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