The COVID Cruise Ship Saga Is Really Not Going Well for Ron DeSantis

A federal judge has ruled that Norwegian Cruise Lines, which ports in Miami, could require passengers to provide proof of vaccination.
Left: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Right: Norwegian Sun from Norwegian Cruise Line. (Photo by DPPA/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to ban vaccine passports have been a sinking ship for awhile, and now they’ve finally hit rock bottom. 

On Sunday, a federal judge ruled that Norwegian Cruise Lines, which ports in Miami, could require passengers to provide proof of vaccination before embarking on a trip. In May, DeSantis signed a bill that effectively abolished all COVID-19 precautions in the state, including mask mandates and vaccine passports, and Norwegian sued. After months of legal wrangling, a judge agreed that upholding the ban would result in severe financial and reputational loss for the company—not to mention a public health hazard. 

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“Scientific research shows that cruise lines are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission,” U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams wrote in a nearly 60 page opinion. “Therefore, the cruise line industry must navigate the unpredictable nature of the ever-developing COVID-19 pandemic while complying with regulations on quarantining, testing, and vaccination.” 

For months, DeSantis has tried to lift pandemic-related restrictions and sue anyone who’s said otherwise in his state. The bill he signed in May effectively wiped out any local emergency measures. Miami-Dade County, for example, had an indoor mask mandate in place, which the law rendered useless, although private businesses were still allowed to set their own rules. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” DeSantis said in May to the AP. “But I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools, and personal freedom.”

The Florida governor did, however, ultimately emerge victorious in his more than a year-long fight with the CDC over guidelines for passengers on cruise ships, even vaccinated ones. DeSantis had argued that the agency, which docked all cruise ships in March 2020, had overstepped its federal power by regulating a private business based in Florida. In July, a federal appeals court agreed and decided the CDC can’t enforce those rules, setting up the stakes for the private fight between Norwegian Cruise Lines and Florida’s governor. 

Many other cruise lines plan to stick with the recommendations, too. 

Parents in the state have also taken aim at DeSantis and are now suing after the governor signed an executive order banning mask mandates in schools starting this fall. The CDC advised that all people in schools should wear a mask, particularly unvaccinated children, many of whom are ineligible for the shot at the moment. 

Over the last several weeks, Florida has also recently erupted with COVID cases, with infection rates as high as 51 percent in the last seven days. The state now has the third collective highest viral load in the world, with only Louisiana and Botswana above it. 

In fact, if Florida were its own country, the United States would need to consider a travel ban for its residents, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, told CNN.