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Appeals court blocks CDC restrictions on cruises in win for Florida

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The Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of The Seas arrives at Port Everglades on June 10, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday sided with Florida in its challenge against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over federal regulations for cruise ships that the state said were too onerous and were costing it millions of dollars in foregone tax revenue.

The two-page ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks an unusual reversal from the appeals panel’s ruling in the matter delivered on Saturday.

The court did not explain the reason for the change, though the latest ruling came just hours after Florida brought the case to the Supreme Court, seeking to reverse the 11th Circuit’s previous move. That action will likely be withdrawn now.

The CDC rules have hampered the cruise industry from returning fully to business amid the nation’s vaccine-driven recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Early in the public health crisis, cruise lines were subject to a number of high-profile outbreaks. The industry was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

A federal district court in Florida sided with the state last month in response to a lawsuit filed by Ashley Moody, the Republican attorney general. Over the weekend, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted that decision, which allowed the CDC rules to remain in place.

The 11th Circuit decision on Saturday was made by a vote of 2-1. Friday’s decision was unanimous.

Shares of cruise lines Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line each fell further than the broader market following the release of the 11th Circuit decision on Monday.

On Friday afternoon, Moody brought the case to the Supreme Court in an emergency filing, asking the top court to reverse the appeals court’s decision.

“The CDC’s Order is manifestly beyond its authority, as the district court correctly concluded in preliminarily enjoining it,” Moody wrote in the filing.

Moody said that the CDC’s rules amount to an “an ever-changing array of requirements” that are posted to the agency’s website.

In addition, she wrote, the CDC rules require cruise lines to “establish COVID-19 testing laboratories, run self-funded experiments called ‘test voyages,’ and comply with social-distancing requirements throughout ships, including in outdoor areas like swimming pools and while waiting in line for the bathroom.”

Moody wrote that only five ships out of 65 subject to the CDC’s cruise rules had been approved to sail at the time the 11th Circuit issued its ruling. She wrote in the filing that the restrictions on cruises have cost Florida tens of millions of dollars in tax and port revenues. Without further action, the restrictions were set to remain in place until November 2021.

The CDC did not immediately return a request for comment.

The 11th Circuit decision comes as the nation is seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases, largely among individuals who have not been vaccinated, attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant.

Moody said Wednesday that she had contracted Covid-19 despite receiving a vaccine. In a post Friday on Twitter, Moody said she was still experiencing mild symptoms and encouraged people to get vaccinated.


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