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Judge Overturns CDC's Cruise Orders, Effective July 18

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Marta Lavandier
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Judge Stephen Merryday granted a preliminary injunction, meaning the CDC cannot enforce its orders for the resumption of cruises in Florida. However, the injunction has been stayed until July 18.

A federal judge has given Florida a victory, overturning the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's orders that limited the cruise line industry's operations in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Merryday granted a preliminary injunction Friday, meaning the CDC cannot enforce its guidance for ships departing or arriving at a Florida port pending further legal action on a broader Florida lawsuit.

Merryday heard arguments from the state and the federal government in a Tampa court on Tuesday.

In his 124-page ruling, the judge concluded the restrictions are likely unconstitutional and overstepped their legal authority.

Read the judge's ruling here.

However, the injunction has been stayed until July 18.

At that point, the CDC's orders will become "recommendations," similar to "guidelines" the agency offered other industries like airlines, hotels, sports venues and public transportation.

The ruling also allows the CDC to propose a narrower injunction — more limited regulations than the federal government previously issued — before July 2.

It also orders the state and the CDC back to the mediation table to see if they can work out a solution.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody were quick to hail the ruling in separate press releases Friday afternoon.

“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” said DeSantis. “The CDC and the Biden administration concocted a plan to sink the cruise industry, hiding behind bureaucratic delay and lawsuits. Today, we are securing this victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry, and for every state that wants to preserve its rights in the face of unprecedented federal overreach.”

Moody said: “Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry. The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely. I am excited to see the cruise industry get sailing again, and proud to stand with Governor Ron DeSantis against illegal federal overreach and draconian lockdown measures.”

DeSantis sued the CDC in April, saying the cruise lines should have been able to relaunch immediately without any regulations.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas departed on its first test cruise under CDC's order from PortMiami on Sunday evening. The crew was fully vaccinated but passengers were invited volunteers to help the ship go through safety protocols.

A fully vaccinated Royal Caribbean cruise out of St. Maarten earlier this month saw two passengers test positive for COVID-19. The pair were asymptomatic.

In addition, the Odyssey of the Seas megaship's debut sailing with paying passengers was supposed to take place July 3. However, it was pushed back to July 31 after eight crew members tested positive. According to Royal Caribbean officials, six were asymptomatic, two had mild symptoms.

On Wednesday, the CDC eased its travel warning, recommending that only unvaccinated passengers should avoid cruise ships.

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Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.