FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In a matter of days, things have changed again for the cruise industry in Florida.
Judges for the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed course Friday, siding with the state by saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot keep any of its COVID-19 safety measures in place as cruises sail from Florida ports this summer.
The reversal comes only six days after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a judge’s order that would have declared the CDC's COVID-19 regulations for the cruise ship industry as mere recommendations, not rules.
The ruling by the appeals court last week had meant U.S. Federal District Judge Steven Merryday’s June 18 decision to allow cruise ships to sail without mandatory COVID-19 precautions and policies was put on hold. The decision was considered a win for the CDC. Judges’ opinions were supposed to follow, but they never did.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got his way Friday when the federal appeals court changed course. The Friday decision offered no explanation other than saying the CDC “failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal.” Friday’s decision by the appeals court to side with Florida was unanimous.
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 fewer 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 ago.
“I would have thought that it would have become even clearer how wrong Merryday was and how desperately the CDC’s protocols are needed,” Jarvis said, referencing the spike in COVID-19 cases. “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.