CDC says Florida lawsuit imperils summer cruises to Alaska as standoff continues

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(NewsNation Now) — U.S. officials say Florida’s lawsuit against the federal government over conditions for cruise lines to resume sailing could threaten plans to restart cruising in Alaska after a court-ordered mediation failed to end the standoff.

The state of Florida and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to reach an agreement on cruise guidelines Thursday after the federal judge overseeing Florida’s lawsuit against the Biden administration ordered both sides into mediation.

The Sunshine State has sued to throw out requirements, called a conditional sailing order, that were imposed on cruise lines before they can sail in U.S. water for the first time since March 2020.

The CDC says cruise ships will be allowed to sail with passengers as long as 98% of crew members and 95% of the passengers are fully vaccinated. But an order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April bars businesses from questioning a customer’s vaccination status. Cruise ships are not exempt from the rule.

 DeSantis said he wasn’t budging on a new state law-based that authorizes a $5,000 fine — per passenger — against cruise lines that ask for proof of vaccination reported NewsNation affiliate WFLA.

The CDC says that Congress effectively ratified the conditional sailing order when it passed a law last month to let large cruise ships resume trips from Washington state to Alaska this summer.

If Florida wins an injunction blocking the CDC order, it would “end cruising in Alaska for the season,” lawyers for the agency say because the bill pushed by Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation hinges on the CDC order being in effect. Several cruise lines have announced plans to sail to Alaska with vaccinated crew members and passengers starting in a few weeks.

Alaska estimates that cruising contributes $3 billion a year to the state economy. Alaska and Texas, another state with a sizeable cruising industry, sided with Florida early in the case.

Alaska’s attorney general’s office complained in a court filing this week about the CDC’s “constantly-morphing orders, restrictions and guidance” for large cruise ships.

Federal lawyers also said in a filing this week that granting Florida’s wish to block the CDC’s regulation of the cruising restart would undermine public confidence in cruising, “particularly in the state of Florida, which is publicly battling with the industry over its own laws.”

On Thursday, the governor’s office also called test cruises a false hope and said it doesn’t guarantee companies will get the greenlight for the return of paying customers.

“Under this ridiculous requirement, a cruise line could spend millions operating a test voyage, and still not be approved to resume full operations if a bureaucrat at the CDC doesn’t feel good about it that day,” DeSantis’ office said in a statement.

His office also accused the CDC of discriminating against families with children.

“At this time, COVID-19 vaccines are not approved for children under 12, yet the CDC rules would require 95% of all passengers to be vaccinated. Approximately 30% of cruise passengers are children,” the statement said. “It is not possible for families to enjoy a cruise vacation under these unlawful regulations — they would either have to leave their children at home or forego the vacation altogether.”

The impasse leaves future of Florida’s cruise industry hanging in the balance. The lawsuit will make its way through federal court system.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WFLA contributed to this article.

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