Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, fought the law and won a victory for his state over vaccination disclosure mandates with the CDC for cruise passengers.
DeSantis, CDC Go Head-to-Head
It was just three weeks ago that Florida Governor, Ron Desantis, signed SB 2006 into law. Florida legislature approved the measure that prohibited any business from requiring a customer to disclose their vaccination status; businesses that violate the statute would be subject to a $5000 fine per incident.
This caused a problem for cruise lines who are desperate to get sailing again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a no sail order for cruises touching US ports in March of 2020. Cruise ships were particularly difficult places for COVID due to the many touchpoints, close proximity, and thus easy spread of the disease. The Diamond Princess was one of the first and most significant cases informing the decision, with nearly 20% of all passengers and crew (712 of 3,711) becoming infected; 14 died.
However, the cruise lines, the Federal government and the CDC in particular acknowledge that we are a long way from Diamond Princess and issued a conditional sailing order that allowed Royal Caribbean (RCL) to take passengers back to the water. The order came with a stipulation: 95% of passengers and crew must be vaccinated. This left RCL with a conundrum. How could RCL comply with the state of Florida and SB 2006 without paying $5,000/incident (presumed to be anyone and everyone they required to disclose status of vaccination) but also prove to the CDC that it had complied with its mandate as well?
As with many matters of disagreement in the United States, the two parties sat down at a table and reached a mutual agreement like civilized leaders. the matter went to court.
The result of the ruling was claimed as a major victory by the Governor. Judge Steven Merryday ruled on June 18, 2021 that the CDC cannot enforce its vaccination requirement on cruise ships serving the state from July 18, 2021 onward. Once DeSantis received the news of his victory he humbly said this,
“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” DeSantis said in a statement, claiming the agency was trying to “sink” Florida’s cruise industry industry, per the Washington Post. – The Guardian
The judge essentially de-fanged the CDC order to a suggestion:
“Merriday’s decision means that the CDC’s “conditional sailing order” will merely be a “non-binding ‘consideration,’ ‘recommendation’ or ‘guideline’” when it comes to Florida cruises that set sail from 18 July.” – The Guardian
Following this decision, it is likely that most ships will quickly return to active duty without the concern of upsetting law enforcement.
Good For Florida
The cruise industry has a safe and secure home in Florida. Most of the cruise lines have their headquarters in the “Capital of the Americas,” Miami. The industry has heavily laid infrastructure in southern Florida, and had the judge stayed the CDC order as written for a further extended period of time, it’s possible that those ships would have set up shop in other ports.
Beyond the cruise ships themselves, the economy is built around cruising. Restaurants, taxis, hotels, and airlines would have suffered. It’s possible that other states might have made a play for becoming a more permanent home.
Good For Alternative States Too
But wait, there’s more.
Those who want to be absolutely certain everyone onboard is vaccinated may have an alternative option now. States where vaccination status disclosure is not a crime may market themselves as a safer way to sail for those interested. Cruisers who want to be certain on the matter, could sail from California down the Baja coast on vaccinated-only trips. This may lead to a specific marketshare for customers that aren’t interested in Florida’s “can’t ask” policy.
There had to be an outcome quickly in this case for the sake of the cruise industry more broadly. It’s simply impossible to run a business whereby one government agency states you must assure the passengers are vaccinated and another says it’s illegal to ask. Regardless of any specific feelings with respect to whether Florida or the CDC was right, the industry has to rejoice at a clear path forward.
What do you think? How should the judge have ruled? Is this a win for other states too?
*Note: A previous version of this post mentioned that DeSantis had been a “Bronze Star Medal winner.” A commenter (Mike) pointed out that while he may hold the medal (as is listed on the Governor’s bio) it may not indicate the correct outcome as I originally typed it. As such, I have removed it and added this note. I have no intention of assigning nor removing medals of valor simply due to ignorance about how and when it is awarded.