A federal appeals court late on Friday reversed course and let stand a lower court order prohibiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from enforcing coronavirus-related cruise ship rules in Florida.
The decision is a win for Florida that had filed a lawsuit arguing the CDC curbs made it tough for the cruise industry to recover from the pandemic.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had only on Saturday voted 2-1 to block the lower court decision.
But in its latest brief statement, the three-judge appeals panel said it had withdrawn its earlier order on its own and was now rejecting the government's request because it had "failed to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal."
The CDC said that even though it cannot require cruise ships to abide by the sail order, it will enforce its separate transit mask requirements on cruise ships in Florida that opt not to follow the now voluntary program. read more
All cruise ships in Florida will still be required to report "individual cases of illness or death and ship inspections and sanitary measures to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases," the CDC said late on Friday.
Cruise lines that ensure at least 95% of passengers and nearly all crew are vaccinated can bypass simulated voyages and move more quickly to resuming commercial trips and can allow vaccinated people to avoid masks in inside common spaces, according to the CDC's conditional sail order.
Masks are not required in outdoor areas on cruise ships.
The conditional sail order "represents the most effective way of continuing to protect the public's health," the CDC said.
The CDC "remains committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners" to ensure the safe resumption of operations, it added.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office said the state is pleased the appeals court has lifted "the prior order allowing the preliminary injunction to be in place."
The appeals court ruling came soon after the state of Florida had filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to lift the appeals court order, warning that without action the state was "all but guaranteed to lose yet another summer cruise season while the CDC pursues its appeal," the state said in its filing to the Supreme Court.
In June, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in siding with Republican-led Florida found the state was "highly likely" to show the CDC exceeded its authority in adopting rules governing the resumption of cruise ship sailing.
The CDC in May began approving some cruise operations after lengthy talks with the industry about health and safety protocols. Operations were suspended in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, did not indicate on Friday whether it supported Florida's legal challenge, but said before the appeals court order that cruise ships will continue to operate in accordance with the CDC requirements.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd (NCLH.N) has sued Florida, saying state law prohibiting cruise lines from requiring COVID-19 vaccine documentation was preventing it "from safely and soundly resuming passenger cruise operations" from Miami starting on Aug. 15.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler, Matthew Lewis and Himani Sarkar)