Florida Cruise Ships Must Follow CDC's COVID Rules, Says U.S. Appeals Court

A previous ruling said the CDC’s sailing orders should be guidelines only

High angle view of Port Canaveral harbor
JodiJacobson / Getty Images

A federal appeals court has blocked a temporary lower-court ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not enforce COVID-19 health and safety regulations on cruise lines sailing to and from the state of Florida. 

Issued by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the 2-1 ruling stays U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday's June ruling that the CDC’s sailing orders should be viewed as guidelines only. “This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to CDC,” he wrote in the official report.

His decision backed Republican Governor Ron Desantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who had sued U.S. health authorities over the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order. "We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data," said Desantis during a press conference.

But on July 6, following Judge Merryday's ruling, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services filed an appeal, stating that "the undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone."

In response, Florida's lawyers issued a court filing requesting that the 11th Circuit reject the CDC's motion to appeal. "The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this Court sorts out the CDC's contentions on appeal," they wrote.

The federal judges from the appellate court have not released their opinion regarding their ruling.

Under the Conditional Sailing Order, which has been in place since last November, cruise ships may only set sail if at least 95 percent of their passengers are fully vaccinated or otherwise submit to a test sailing with CDC officials. Unless the CDC rescinds it, the order will remain in effect until November.