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Court reverses course on COVID-19 cruise-ship regulations, lifting CDC’s safety measures
In a matter of days, things have changed again for the cruise industry in Florida.
Judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta reversed course Friday, siding with the state and ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot impose COVID-19 safety rules on cruises sailing from Florida ports this summer.
The ruling was a victory for Gov. Ron DeSantis, but the court’s turnabout surprised some legal observers.
The CDC wanted cruises to follow a list of measures in a four-phased approach in order to set sail again, including mass testing for staff and passengers, enforcing social distancing and conducting test trips if less than 95% of those onboard are fully vaccinated, among other things.
A court document Florida filed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday says only five ships that are set to sail from Florida out of at least 65 have been currently approved under the CDC’s protocols.
Bob Jarvis, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, said the decision is surprising because it comes at a time when Florida has seen a 60% increase in COVID-19 cases over the last week and because the Friday decision came from the same three judges who ruled in favor the CDC just days before.
“So the 11th circuit now is really flying in the face of science, and this is a very distressing development.”
Jarvis said he can’t recall ever seeing a court reverse course so quickly. “It’s fairly unprecedented for a court to change its mind on the fly like this,” he said.
“The real question is: what happened this week to make those two judges from last week change their minds?” Jarvis said. “Because that’s a very big change.”
Since DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody first filed the lawsuit against the CDC in April, the courts have gone back and forth in decisions, siding with the CDC in one moment and the state in the next.
The state has argued the CDC’s COVID-19 safety measures for cruise ships had harmed Florida’s economy and contributed to unemployment rates. The state said the CDC’s requirements were unconstitutional and that the agency was overstepping its bounds.
DeSantis and Moody made it clear that Florida wanted nothing to do with the CDC’S COVID-19 safety measures, saying that they were “overly burdensome” and “discriminate against children, leave most of the ships sitting in port and disregard the freedom of Floridians to make decisions for their families.”
In June, U.S. Federal District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa granted a preliminary injunction against the CDC’s measures, siding with Florida in a 124-page decision. Merryday wrote that Florida was likely to defeat the CDC on grounds that the CDC’s cruise precautions “exceed the authority delegated” to the federal agency.
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