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CDC will enforce mask mandate for cruises despite court lifting cruise ship restrictions

In:
Category: 
24Jul2021

While Florida may have won its lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to drop all the coronavirus-related cruise ship rules, the nationwide mask mandate will remain.

The CDC said late on Friday that it will enforce its transit mask requirements on cruise ships in Florida that opt not to abide by its Conditional Sail Order (CSO) following a court ruling.

In February 2021, the CDC instituted an order that requires people to wear masks on public transportation, which includes aircraft, train, road vehicle, vessel or other means of transport.

This is the same rule that requires the airlines to enforce passengers.

Enforcement of the CDC's order on cruise ships will fall to the U.S. Coast Guard.

A report by Reuters indicates the CDC will still require cruise ships to adhere to requirements that are not part of the CDC's CSO, including "reporting of 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 it will not relinquish mask requirements it has for in indoor spaces on cruise ships for those lines that are not voluntarily complying with the CSO.

The CDC's announcement came the same day the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals changed its mind and would not block an injunction won by Florida against the CDC meant to lift cruise ship-related rules.

The reversal was because the appeals court feels the federal government failed, "to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal."

The result is the CSO is no longer enforceable in Florida, although it remains in effect for other states, such as Texas, Washington, or New York.

Appeals court changes its mind and lifts CDC's cruise ship regulations

In:
Category: 
23Jul2021

In yet another change, a federal appeals court has reconsidered Florida's win over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), and lifted the agency's Conditional Sail Order (CSO) regulations.

Late on Friday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to let stand the lower court's ruling in favor for the State of Florida, which removes restrictions on how cruise ships can restart operations.

Last weekend, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to approve the CDC's request to prevent Florida's legal victory from going into effect while the appeals process plays out.

That decision was vacated on Friday, just before Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and reverse the appeals court’s decision.

The reversal was because the appeals court feels the federal government failed, "to demonstrate an entitlement to a stay pending appeal."

The result is the CSO is no longer enforceable in Florida, although it remains in effect for other states, such as Texas, Washington, or New York.

It remains to be seen what, if any, change will occur with the cruise lines. Thus far, no line has announced plans to deviate from the CDC's plan.

The CSO outlines rules for cruise lines on how they can restart operations. Specifically, it requires each ship either guarantee at least 95% of its passengers and 98% of its crew members be fully vaccinated.  Ships that do not adhere to this mandate, must first conduct test cruises before they can sail with paying customers.

The CSO also requires cruise lines to get agreements with each port for how to handle Covid-19 cases, as well as regulate testing onboard.

Florida celebrated its victory swiftyly, "Today, following Florida’s application to the United States Supreme Court, we were excited to see the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reverse its prior order and free the cruise lines from the unlawful CDC mandates," Taryn Fenske, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in an email.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis sued the CDC in April as a way to combat the CDC holding cruise ships back from restarting cruises.

The CDC instituted a ban on all cruise ships from the United States in March 2020 due to the global health crisis. Then on October 30, 2020 the CDC imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.

Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled on June 18 in favor of the State of Florida in its lawsuit against the CDC to lift the Conditional Sail Order.

The intention of the ruling was to bring cruise ships in line with other forms of leisure travel and entertainment, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.

The CDC appealed the verdict and asked Judge Merryday for a stay to ensure the CSO did not get lifted while the litigation is sorted out in the appeals process.

While the CDC believes its regulations provides a framework based on the best available scientific evidence, Judge Merryday believes the agency overstepped its powers.

He said the CDC's actions were more than just about public health, "this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power."

As a result, the CSO is now a recommendation rather than a requirement.

Florida asks U.S. Supreme Court to overrule appeals court protection of cruise ship order

In:
Category: 
23Jul2021

The tennis match between Florida and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continued again on Friday, with Florida looking to get the highest legal assistance possible.

Florida's Attorney General petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to essentially override the 11th Circuit decision to hold off on Florida's legal victory against the CDC to lift the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) while the appeals process plays out.

On Friday, Florida appealed to thee Supreme Court following the  an appellate court panel granted the CDC's appeal to delay the injunction.

Florida asked the Supreme Court to lift the appeals court order warning without action. "Florida is 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, a federal judge ruled that the CDC had misused its governmental powers and as a result, granted Florida an injunction against the CSO.

The injunction would move the CDC's rules for cruise ships to be a consideration, instead of a requirement, similar to other industries, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.

The CDC first appealed to the judge in the case, who denied that request, but Circuit Court of the 11th District granted a stay.

In March 2020, the CDC instituted a ban on all cruise ships from the United States due to the global health crisis.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis sued the CDC in April 2021 as a way to combat the CDC holding cruise ships back from restarting cruises.

A federal judge agreed with Florida, saying the CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power.

The judge also said the CDC's claim that their actions are about protecting the public health was wrong, "this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power."

Florida's legal victory was set to take effect on July 18, but the 11th Circuit's decision held that back while the CDC appeals the original verdict.

Read moreWhy the court ruling in favor of the CDC doesn't really change anything

Here's what it looks like if Royal Caribbean invites you to volunteer for a test cruise

In:
Category: 
21Jul2021

Royal Caribbean is asking regular people to volunteer to help go one of the cruise line's test sailings.

Before Royal Caribbean's cruise ships can restart operations, the line needs people to go on simulated voyages as a volunteer and help test out the new Covid-19 protocols and rules.

Some of the first invitations to top tier Crown and Anchor Society members, as well as travel agents, are starting to be sent out via email.

The first test sailings Royal Caribbean conducted were comprised of Royal Caribbean employees who volunteered their time to help out.  But the cruise line is now asking regular people to do test sailings to help get ships back into service.

We now have our first look at what an invitation to a test cruise looks like.

A RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader was selected to sail on the Ovation of the Seas test cruise from Seattle to Alaska at the end of this month.

In case you were wondering, the anonymous person selected for this test cruise is a travel agent, Platinum Crown and Anchor Society member, and signed up to be a volunteer the very first day Royal Caribbean publicized the opportunity.

Ovation will sail a 5-night simulated voyage to Ketchikan, beginning on July 30. If all goes well, her first revenue sailing is scheduled for August 13.

Only volunteers 18 years of age or older, who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, are eligible to join.  One guest in the room must be at least 21 years old.

The two pieces of identification test cruisers need are a valid Passport book or Passport card, and hard-copy of vaccination card as proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 using an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine.

These test cruises are mandated by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), and volunteers are required to be notified of the riskiness of being part of a test cruise.

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires this written notification to advise all volunteer passengers that they are participating in health and safety protocols that are unproven and untested in the United States for purposes of simulating a cruise ship voyage and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity. "

In the email sent to volunteers that are picked for a given test sailing, the registration system is on a first-come, first served basis, and the faster you sign up, the better your chance of getting a room.  People that take longer to sign up will be put on a wait list.

"Registration will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis and will be capacity controlled. Should the event reach the desired capacity, the registration tool will indicate such and grant you the ability to join our waitlist."

Here are some of the more interesting rules for volunteers who opt to cruise.

Invitations to register for test sailings are non-transferable.

Each guest will be granted one double occupancy stateroom to invite a guest of his/her choice.

Staterooms will be assigned at random and cannot be preselected nor changed once confirmed.

Certain volunteers will be designated as “unvaccinated” to aid in simulating protocols for unvaccinated guests. Volunteers designated as “unvaccinated” will need to undergo COVID-19 testing and may be restricted from entering certain venues.

There will be limited opportunities to dine in specialty restaurants at a 50% discount.

Room service will be available. Breakfast is complimentary and all-day menu will be available for extra charge.

Beverages will be available to purchase at 50% off once onboard. Beverage packages will not be available.

Shore excursions will be available to reserve at 35% off.

VOOM Internet will be available at a 50% discount.

Photo purchases available at a 50% discount for Printed Photos, Digitals and Retail (electronics excluded).

Retail shops and Spa services will be available.

The standard daily gratuity charge will be automatically added to each volunteer’s SeaPass account once onboard.

Masks

  • While onboard, masks will be required in indoor spaces, unless actively eating or drinking
  • Masks not required in venues designated as vaccinated-only.
  • Masks not required in your stateroom
  • Masks not needed in pool area or for activities where they could become wet
  • Masks are not required outdoors, unless in a crowded setting

Why is Royal Caribbean doing test cruises?

Some have wondered why Royal Caribbean International did not follow sister brand Celebrity Cruises in mandating 95% of its guests be fully vaccinated, and it has to do with the fact Royal Caribbean International is a family brand.

The simple answer is families, as Royal Caribbean is a family brand and too many children are not eligible yet to be vaccinated. 

Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of Hotel Operations, Mark Tamis, emphasized the decision to conduct test sailings was an easy one for the cruise line, "When the first set of potential regulations were published, it was such an obvious choice of the path that we had to go down."

"Once there were two clear paths, 95% or under 95%, it wasn’t even really a consideration."

Mr. Tamis called the decision "obvious" given how many kids sail with Royal Caribbean, along with the cruise line's dedication to remaining a family brand. "A good 20 to 25 percent of our guests are kids."

Read moreFamilies and kids are the reason why Royal Caribbean is doing test cruises

Why the court ruling in favor of the CDC doesn't really change anything

In:
Category: 
20Jul2021

You may have read about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit approved the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) request to delay an injunction against the agency's cruise ship rules.

That decision created a ripple of concern that cruise industry restart plans would be negatively affected, but the reality is the stay of the injunction being granted means things stay the same, rather than change.

While the lawsuit moves onto the appeals process, cruise fans should know that nothing has really changed between when Florida won its lawsuit, when the stay was initially denied, and now with the injunction delayed.

Here is a rundown of what is happening. and why things are staying the same.

What happened

Florida sued the CDC in April as a way to get all of the restrictions placed on the cruise industry since March 2020 to be lifted.

In June, a federal judge ruled that Florida was right and that the CDC had misused its governmental power.

US District Judge Steven Merryday issued a preliminary injunction, which would have overturned the Conditional Sail Order restrictions starting July 18, but the CDC requested to delay the decision.

Judge Merryday denied that request, but then an appellate court panel granted the CDC's appeal to delay the injunction in a 2-1 decision.

Now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has pledged to continue the fight against the CDC.

"I think that most courts at this point have had their limit with the CDC issuing these dictates without a firm statutory basis," the Florida governor said at a press conference Monday. "So I'm confident that we'd win on the merits at the full 11th Circuit."

"Honestly, I'm confident we'd win at the US Supreme Court," he added.

Why nothing really changes

The news that the CDC won its request to delay the injunction got a lot of people concerned the cruise restart process would be impacted by this ruling, but the reality is the cruise industry has been working with the CDC over the last few months to get back into service.

Even while the courts were deliberating on the authority of the CDC, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean were working under the conditions of the CSO to get approval to sail.

So far two Royal Caribbean cruise ships are back in service from the United States (Freedom of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas), and Odyssey of the Seas is undergoing her test sailing right now.

Another six Royal Caribbean cruise ships have test cruises scheduled between now and the end of August.

Other cruise lines are also working with the CDC right now to get their ships approved via the test cruise program.

In short, the cruise lines have been working under the framework outlined by the CDC that Florida is fighting to get repealed, so its continued existence does not change the status quo related to cruise ship restart plans.

CDC gets a last-minute hold against lifting cruise ship regulations

In:
Category: 
18Jul2021

The rules under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Conditional Sail Order were set to become just a recommendation last night, but a new judge has ruled to hold off on that change just yet.

POLITICO reporter Josh Gerstein reports the Circuit Court of the 11th District voted 2-1 to put U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday’s June 18 ruling on hold.

The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has not yet shared its opinions on the case.

Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled on June 18 in favor of the State of Florida in its lawsuit against the CDC to lift the Conditional Sail Order.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis sued the CDC in April as a way to combat the CDC holding cruise ships back from restarting cruises.

The CDC instituted a ban on all cruise ships from the United States in March 2020 due to the global health crisis. Then on October 30, 2020 the CDC imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.

The CDC appealed the verdict and asked Judge Merryday for a stay to ensure the CSO did not get lifted while the litigation is sorted out in the appeals process.

Judge Merryday denied the stay, saying the CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power.

He also called out the CDC's claim that their actions are about protecting the public health, "this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power."

The CSO was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. EDT on JULY 18, 2021, and instead become a recommendation instead of a requirement.

The intention of the ruling was to bring cruise ships in line with other forms of leisure travel and entertainment, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.

The CDC believes the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) plays an important role in keeping passengers and crew safe on a ship, "It does not shut down the cruise industry but instead provides a sensible, flexible framework for re-opening, based on the best available scientific evidence."

"The undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone."

"Cruise ships are uniquely situated to spread COVID-19, due in part to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods, and stops at foreign ports that risk introducing new variants of COVID-19 into the United States."

In the CDC's opinion, "The balance of the harms and the public interest thus overwhelmingly favor Defendants and maintaining the status quo pending appeal."

Some cruise lines will not allow passengers with mixed vaccines to sail

In:
Category: 
16Jul2021

A few cruise lines have announced new policies regarding which Covid-19 vaccines are acceptable, as well as prohibiting mixed vaccine regiments.

At least three cruise lines have announced new policies this week.

Norwegian Cruise Line has updated its policy to say their U.S. based vessels will not accept mixed vaccinations, such as Pfizer + Moderna or AstraZeneca + Pfizer, etc.

NCL will accept accept any U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and/or World Health Organization (WHO) authorized single brand vaccination protocol.


NCL policy on their website as of July 16

This includes J&J Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford.

NCL's other ships not based in the U.S. will accept any U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Medicines Agency (EMA), or World Health Organization (WHO) authorized single brand vaccination protocol. Or a mixed vaccination protocol of only AstraZeneca-SK Bio, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna combinations.

Holland America Line & Princess Cruises also updated their policies to exclude mixed vaccinations.


HAL policy on their website as of July 16

The website for both Princess and HAL indicates guests who have had one single does of a vector vaccine and a single dose of a mRNA vaccine will not considered fully vaccinated, whereas guests who have had mixed vaccines from the same type of vaccine will be considered fully vaccinated.

"Guests who have received one single dose of a vector vaccine (e.g. AstraZeneca) and one single dose of a mRNA vaccine (e.g. Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna) will not be considered fully vaccinated. Guests who have received two single doses of mixed vaccines that are the same type (e.g., both are mRNA) will be considered fully vaccinated and will be permitted to sail, so long as the final dose is received at least 14 days prior to the beginning of the cruise."


Princess policy on their website as of July 16

Carnival Cruise Line also added verbiage addressing mixed vaccines to their website.

Carnival says Pfizer and Moderna can be mixed to complete a full vaccination series. All other vaccines in a 2-dose series are required to be of the same type.


Carnival policy on their website as of July 16

UPDATE: Royal Caribbean has updated its policy to match other cruise lines.

The policy change among the cruise lines comes just days after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the trend of mixing vaccines as "dangerous".

WHO's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan spoke about the issues with mixing vaccines earlier this week, "It's a little bit of a dangerous trend here."

"We're in a data-free, evidence-free zone here as far as mix-and-match. There is limited data on mix-and-match. It will be a chaotic situation in countries if citizens start deciding when and who will be taking a second, a third, and a fourth dose."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website Covid-19 vaccines are not interchangeable.

"The safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product."

While the CDC advises against mixing and matching, it does address those "exceptional situations" in which it's unclear whether someone had an initial dose of a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, for example. In that case, "any available mRNA COVID-19 vaccine may be administered" to complete the series.

Royal Caribbean gets CDC approval to start test sailings on Ovation of the Seas

In:
15Jul2021

Another Royal Caribbean cruise ship has a test sailing scheduled.

Royal Caribbean confirmed on Thursday that Ovation of the Seas has received permission from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start test cruises.

Ovation is one of a half dozen ships within the Royal Caribbean fleet to have gotten approval to start test cruises so far.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed the news on Facebook, along with sail dates.

Ovation will sail from Seattle to Alaska on July 30 to August 4th.

"Onwards and upwards ship by ship," Mr. Bayley added with the news.

Simulated voyages (also known as test cruises) are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

These are not cruises you can book, but rather, are limited voyages where a cruise line invites certain unpaid volunteers to help go through all the necessary steps and procedures to ensure cruise ships can be run safely.

Each cruise ship needs to be approved by the CDC in order to conduct test cruises.

During these test cruises, Royal Caribbean will go through a variety of scenarios to prove to the CDC that the ship can conduct sailings in a safe manner. Specifically, the new protocols aimed at preventing Covid-19 from getting onboard the ship are at the heart of these dry runs.

Each ship must conduct at least one simulated cruise, and each voyage must be between 2-7 days in length with a least one overnight stay, including through embarkation, disembarkation, and post-disembarkation testing.

According to the CDC, passengers and crew must meet standards during the simulated voyage for hand hygiene, use of face masks, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO celebrates cruise ships sailing again

In:
14Jul2021

Cruise ships are sailing again from North America and Europe, and it has the top executive at the Royal Caribbean Group quite happy.

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO, shared a new video update with travel agents on Wednesday, celebrating that twenty one ships in his company are now back in the water and offering cruises.

Mr. Fain returned recently from sailing on Celebrity Edge and Freedom of the Seas, and sees a positive outlook for the industry, despite some challenges.

Thus far, the 21 ships sailing break down as follows:

  • 5 from Royal Caribbean International
  • 6 from Celebrity Cruises
  • 2 from SilverSea
  • 5 from TUI Cruises
  • 3 from Hapag-Lloyd

Getting so many ships back into service was no simple task, and Mr. Fain talked about how they got things moving, "I've been asked why our restart is happening so fast, how we are getting so many of our ships sailing so quickly.

"The answer is simple. We believed in our people, and we believed in the science. We prepared, we started preparing early because we knew what was happening and because we wanted to get the flywheel of demand going early."

"I've never seen the level of enthusiasm, of excitement and of gratitude that I've experienced on these cruises," Mr. Fain said after being able to sail again.

Mr. Fain saw equal enthusiasm from guests and from crew members. He said crew members saw the return of cruising as a "literal lifeline" after months of no work.  Guests celebrated the return of cruising as a way to escape all the isolation and letdowns of the past months.

The cruise industry is far from clear of any concerns or dangers to their businesses, but Mr. Fain said there will always be challenges to overcome, "There are always immediate issues. Covid-19 is not going away, but it is slowly getting under better control."

"The vast majority of people onboard our ships are vaccinated. And this percentage will only climb. In addition, the testing regimens and the available therapies mean that cruising can properly aspire to be not only as safe as other vacations, but more so."

According to Mr. Fain, that is not to say that they are disregarding thing such as the delta variant, "We shouldn't ignore the present challenges. We should be concerned about the recent increase in cases and the impact of the variants."

"We need to manage today carefully. But if we only obsess about the present, we will fail to prepare for the future and we must keep our eye firmly on that future that we can all see is coming."

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