Federal Judge Rules Against Passengers Having To Show A Vaccination Passport Before Boarding Cruise Ships

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Tom Madden,  Founder & CEO, TransMedia Group

A federal judge’s ruling brings to mind one of the most famous crowded elevator scenes in movies when Cary Grant’s mom asks in North by Northwest: “you gentlemen aren’t really trying to kill my son, are you?”  

Now imagine multi-storied floating elevators with thousands occupying spaces so crowded that the person’s nose next to you is almost pressing against your cheek.  Such elevators are called cruise ships and a federal judge just ruled they can throw C.D.C. guidelines overboard and sail off into the sunset as crowded and unmasked as they want.

The judge ruled that beginning on July 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will no longer be allowed to enforce its rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on cruise ships in Florida.

In his ruling, the judge, Steven D. Merryday of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, granted Florida’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking the C.D.C. from enforcing the rules in Florida’s ports. 

He finds they were based on “stale data” and failed to take into account the prevalence of effective vaccines.

The judge said that beginning on July 18, the rules “will persist as only a nonbinding ‘consideration,’ ‘recommendation’ or ‘guideline,’ the same tools used by C.D.C. when addressing the practices in other similarly situated industries, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” said Florida’s attorney general, Ashley Moody. “The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida called the ruling a “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.  The C.D.C. has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” he said.

Still, I would argue what was so wrong with requiring cruise passengers to show there’s no COVID in their noses?  Or is this a pandemic directed by Alfred Hitchcock?   Some called a requirement to show you’re vaccinated a symptom of “behavioral socialism,” while cruise companies saw it as protecting not only the safety of cruise goers, but their own liability and reputation.

Another horror film director, Gov. DeSantis, maintained it’s a free blow-your-own-nose country and you can’t compel citizens to show proof of vaccination and now a federal judge concurs. Three quarters of Floridians disagreed with DeSantis, according to the latest survey, but not this federal judge.  He declared it was wrong to treat the cruise industry differently than airlines, railroads and hotels.

The federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from enforcing its no-sail order for cruises giving the state of Florida a “major victory” in its lawsuit against the federal government. 

So, if you’re leery about taking elevators during a pandemic, you can stay home or take the stairs up to the 99th floor.

The cruise industry was one of the first to suffer disruption and chaos when the pandemic first bludgeoned us.  Understandably gun shy, it now seeks to make it mandatory that all cruise goers show they’ve been vaccinated before coming aboard their crowded cruise ships.

Seems reasonable enough, but the governor believes you can’t force people to vaccinate to take a cruise, as inadvertent virus spreading is your sacred right to do whether on land, sea or air, anyplace that’s free to roam or foam in a free society.  

With less than two weeks until the first U.S. cruise since March 2020 leaves from a U.S. port — Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades — companies were saying they were still determining what to do about insuring cruise passengers are vaccinated before sailing from Florida.

Fair or dystopian?

Although Florida law prohibits businesses from asking patrons if they have been vaccinated, is there anything wrong about cruise lines politely asking passengers to volunteer such information.  Is this fair or dystopian?  

One cruise line was telling passengers 16 and older that if they choose not to volunteer proof of vaccination, they will be summarily treated as sort of undesirables as they would be required to follow C.D.C. guidelines for masks and social distancing as well as be subjected to COVID-19 testing — at additional cost. 

Waging culture war

The conflict between the governor and the cruise ship titans has served to burnish the governor’s holy libertarian image among vaccination opponents in the brewing culture war as he seeks reelection next year and perhaps a more robust national political profile for something much bigger.

But does it not raise questions about the Republican governor’s decision to use government mandates, instead of the free market, to determine what corporations should do?  And hasn’t the cruise industry been among his party’s closest allies?  Hmmmmm! 

The conflict could result in precedent-setting implications for the industry at ports nationwide.   Arguing individual liberty, Florida and Texas ban compulsory vaccines before boarding cruise ships, while Alaska and California allow it.  


Thomas MaddenAbout the Author: Besides an inveterate blogger, Tom Madden is an author of countless published articles and five books, including his latest, WORDSHINE MAN, available this summer on Amazon.   He is the founder and CEO of TransMedia Group, an award-winning public relations firm serving clients worldwide since 1981 and has conducted remarkably successful media campaigns and crisis management for America’s largest companies and organizations.