TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the eve of a court hearing, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office pushed back Wednesday in a fight with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about restrictions on cruise ships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys filed a brief Monday that said, in part, recent developments “further undermine” the state’s arguments that a preliminary injunction is needed to block the restrictions. Those developments, according to the federal attorneys, include the CDC approving simulated voyages that involve testing cruise-ship operators’ ability to mitigate risks of the virus.
But in a response filed Wednesday, Moody’s office said the CDC is “coercing” the cruise industry into requiring almost all passengers to be vaccinated before they can go on cruises -- which would violate a state ban on what have become known as COVID-19 vaccine “passports.” The filing said test cruises cost “tens of millions of dollars per brand” and that ships must comply with “burdensome” protocols about issues such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“Cruise companies are trying their best to work with the CDC because they have no choice,” the filing said. “But make no mistake -- the CDC continues its overreach, and Florida’s irreparable harm increases by the day.”
Moody, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, filed the lawsuit in April challenging restrictions that idled the industry after outbreaks aboard ships early in the pandemic in 2020. The lawsuit focuses heavily on a “conditional sailing order” that the CDC initially issued in October with a phased approach to resuming cruise-ship operations. The CDC has made several updates to the guidelines and said in the Monday filing that it expects cruises to resume by mid-summer.
U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday in Tampa on the state’s request for a preliminary injunction against the restrictions.