Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz praise updated CDC cruise guidelines
Image via AP.

Cruise ships in PortMiami
The guidance still requires most passengers to be vaccinated, but rolls back mask mandates.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are backing new federal guidance making it easier for cruise ships to get back to the seas.

The cruise industry has been shut down since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been moving to allow cruise ships to set sail starting in mid-July. On Wednesday, the CDC loosened guidance, allowing ships with a vast majority of vaccinated occupants to forgo mask requirements entirely.

Frankel and Wasserman Schultz both represent parts of South Florida, a region which has been affected by the pandemic’s impact on travel generally, and by the cruise industry pause specifically. On Thursday, the two sent a letter to Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 Coordinator, thanking the Joe Biden administration for moving forward with a cruise industry relaunch.

“The Biden Administration’s expeditious rollout of multiple vaccines has provided a lifeline to several industries that have been derailed by the pandemic,” the letter reads.

“As such, we are reaching out to express our strong support of your Administration’s rapid distribution of and extensive access to vaccines in our state, as well as the recent CDC guidance as it relates to the cruise industry, which is a major, vital employer in our districts. The widespread availability of vaccines, coupled with the latest cruise guidance will help put ships back in the water in a safe and timely manner, which is crucial to South Florida’s economy and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Floridians who work in or around the industry. We thank you for closely working with and listening to the cruise lines to understand their plans and desires to start sailing again, and for providing a clear path forward for resumption.”

The CDC has been updating its Conditional Sail Order, laying out the steps needed for a safe, industry-wide reopening. The COVID-19 virus caused outbreaks on cruise ships last year before the industry shut down. The close confines of a ship can lead to transmission, leading to the U.S. government essentially shutting down the industry for the past year.

But as the CDC updated its overall masking guidelines this week, the agency also laid out more relaxed requirements for cruise ships. High vaccination levels will still be required for a ship to operate — at least 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers must be vaccinated. But in those situations, individuals on board will no longer be forced to mask up.

The language states that travelers may “gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings.”

Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis has hammered the CDC for both holding off restarting the industry until July and effectively requiring vaccine passports to board a ship. Cruise industry representatives have also wondered how federal requirements will jibe with a DeSantis executive order barring such vaccine passports.

DeSantis has repeatedly traded jabs with the Democratic President, as DeSantis reportedly weighs his own presidential run in 2024. Unsurprisingly, Biden’s Democratic allies in Congress were more praiseworthy in their letter to Zients.

“The new Administration’s guidelines, rooted in science with the health and safety of all Americans in mind, have finally put us on a roadmap to help us navigate through the pandemic,” Frankel and Wasserman Schultz wrote.

“As we work toward putting COVID-19 behind us, heading toward a semblance of normalcy again, it is imperative that we continue to adhere to the CDC’s guidance so the nation can stay on this positive track, revitalizing and strengthening our economy. We are grateful for the CDC’s efforts to provide comprehensive guidance for the cruise lines to reopen as soon as mid-July and ensure that they can move forward with safe cruising, and we stand ready to assist the Administration in meeting our mutual goals.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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