Gov. Ron DeSantis is standing firm, saying there will be no exception for cruise ships in the state’s new vaccine passport ban. The news comes after a report indicated the cruise industry had been lobbying the Governor’s office for an exemption.
The fate of Florida’s multibillion-dollar cruise industry is pitted between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s cautious coronavirus rollbacks and DeSantis’ politically calculated embrace of personal liberties.
“The problem is the CDC,” DeSantis said. “The problem is not Florida.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday at a news conference in Ormond Beach, DeSantis described his view of the CDC’s latest directive for the cruise industry.
“’Oh, by the way, if you’re sunbathing you have to make sure they’re wearing a mask while they’re sunbathing,’ DeSantis said speaking as if he were the CDC.
“Are you kidding me?” DeSantis quipped. “That is an absolute farce. So, we’re challenging the authority of the CDC to be involved to this extent.”
The cruise industry has been stalled since a no sail order issued by the CDC in March 2020. At DeSantis’ direction, Florida is suing the CDC over the order. A hearing was heard Wednesday by a federal judge in Tampa. There is no timeline for when the judge will make his decision, though he noted he would move as quickly as possible. DeSantis said he thinks the hearing went well.
“We think we got our points across. We think the judge was receptive,” DeSantis said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The latest directive from the CDC stated that if the cruise industry can prove 95% of passengers are vaccinated, large-capacity cruise ships can start sailing in July. Otherwise, they have to wait another six months.
But proving vaccinations is not easy to do in Florida, where the Governor recently signed a law banning any businesses or institutions from requiring proof of vaccination documentation. If a cruise company violated the ban it would have to pay up to a $5,000 fine on a per passenger basis. The per passenger interpretation of the new law is according to Rep. Tom Leek who sponsored the House version of the bill (SB 2006).
“We want them to be able to make decisions about how they’re going to handle a lot of this stuff, that, obviously, is within the context of Florida policy that respects the medical privacy of all Floridians,” DeSantis said.
Michael Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council, said during the Florida Seaport and Transportation Economic Development Council security meeting Monday that the cruise industry was hoping for an exception to the ban. A spokesperson for the Governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
If Florida can’t find a workaround to its vaccine passport ban or the new CDC order at least one major cruise line, Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, has threatened to launch their ships from somewhere other than Florida. DeSantis has suggested cruise lines will go out of the country to ports in the Bahamas.
And on Thursday, DeSantis made a bet that cruise passengers don’t need assurance from vaccine passports before they start cruising again.
“If we are successful in the courts, I am willing to bet anyone that people are going to want to cruise from the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.