By CURT ANDERSON, AP Legal Affairs Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (AP) – Florida cruise ship pandemic restrictions remain in place after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked an earlier ruling accompanied by a Florida lawsuit against the regulations.
The one-paragraph ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Court of Appeals was filed on Saturday at 11:50 p.m., just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling on the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s restrictions and prevention was taken effect.
The judges’ granting of temporary residence keeps the CDC rules for Florida-based cruise lines in effect while the CDC is appealing the June decision of U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.
The lawsuit, defended by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, alleges that the CDC’s multi-step process to allow cruises from Florida is unduly arduous and damaging both a billion dollar industry, which provides around 159,000 jobs, and the state’s revenue .
A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not immediately respond to an email and SMS asking for comment on Sunday. In the court record, Florida lawyers urged the 11th district to deny the CDC’s request to keep its rules intact for the time being.
“Shares overwhelmingly support the cruise industry enjoying its first summer season in two years as this court dispels the CDC’s claims on appeal,” argued Florida’s attorneys.
However, the CDC said that following the rules would prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are prone to the spread of the virus due to their close proximity and frequent stops in foreign ports.
“The indisputable evidence shows that an unregulated cruise ship operation would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and that the damage to the public that would result from such operations is irreversible,” the CDC said in a court record.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, which affected passengers and crew on numerous ships, the CDC stopped cruise ships for the first time in March 2020.
Then, on October 30th last year, the CDC imposed a four-tier conditional framework that would allow the industry to gradually resume operations when certain thresholds are met. This included virus defense procedures and a simulated cruise to test before embarking regular passengers.
Merryday’s decision concluded that the CDC cannot enforce these rules for ships in Florida and that they should only be viewed as a non-binding recommendation or guide. Several cruise companies have started preliminary cruises under these guidelines approved by the Tampa Florida judge.
“Florida convincingly claims that the conditional sailing regulations will suspend most cruises all summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote in June, adding that Florida “is facing an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the Cruise industry will leave the state â.
The 11th District’s brief decision did not include the opinions of the judges that the panel said would later be released. The decision found that one appellate judge disagreed.
Disney Cruise Lines hosted its first simulated sailing under CDC rules on Saturday when the Disney Dream sailed from Port Canaveral, Florida. The passengers were Disney volunteer workers.