Cruising restrictions will stay in place.
A federal appeals court panel sided with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its legal battle with Florida over COVID-19 guidelines for cruise lines.
The 2-1 decision handed down late Saturday by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges stays a U.S. district judge’s decision – minutes before it would have gone into effect – that the CDC could not enforce its framework for the return of cruises.
Florida had been granted a preliminary injunction that could render CDC restrictions on cruising to and from the state as optional guidance starting this month.
The ruling from last month by Judge Steven Merryday said, “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 CDC.”
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In March 2020, the CDC halted cruises and has since laid out a four-phase framework allowing cruise lines to resume operations under specific conditions. Florida filed a lawsuit, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, claiming the process to allow cruising from Florida is overly burdensome, harming the multibillion-dollar industry and revenue collected by the state.
USA TODAY was unable to reach DeSantis’ office for comment.
In the court filing, attorneys for Florida urged the 11th Circuit to reject the CDC request to keep its rules intact.
“The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this court sorts out the CDC’s contentions on appeal,” Florida’s lawyers argued.
The CDC said keeping the rules in place would prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of their close quarters 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 undone,” the CDC said in a court filing.
Disney Cruise Lines held its first simulated sailing under CDC rules Saturday when the Disney Dream departed from Port Canaveral, Florida. The passengers were volunteer employees.
Contributing: Morgan Hines, Jordan Culver and John Bacon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press