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CDC still has authority over cruise ship public health, Appeals Court in no rush (*updated*)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's conditional sailing order may be non-binding in Florida now, but ships are still subject to inspection to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like COVID-19 and may be detained.

The CDC asked cruise lines to inform it, by 5 p.m. EDT Monday, of any ships operating from Florida that will continue to follow the CSO on a voluntary basis. 

New 'gray' category in color-coded system

Those that don't respond or don't intend to continue complying with the CSO will be designated as 'gray' in the agency's color-coded system.

CDC said this means it 'cannot confirm that the cruise ship operator’s health and safety protocols align with CDC’s standards for protecting passengers, crew, port personnel and communities against the public health risks posed by COVID-19.'

Some things remain unaffected by a US court's preliminary injunction in Florida's favor. Ships must still report to the CDC's quarantine station individual cases of illness or death, including COVID-like illness. And ships remain subject to inspection to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases and may be detained while sanitary measures are addressed.

After initially stating it would enforce the CDC's mask order for vessels that choose not to comply with the CSO, the agency then backed off and said it would not do so for those operating from Florida.

Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean staying the course

'We will continue to voluntarily follow all CDC guidelines and recommendations,' Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said on Facebook.

And Carnival Corp. in a statement noted the CSO 'remains in effect throughout the US and, in Florida, its guidelines are effective as CDC recommendations. The recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is part of a broader legal challenge that may not be settled for some time. While these matters continue to be litigated, we intend to follow protocols consistent with CSO guidelines.'

Norwegian Cruise Line did not immediately address whether they'll do so, too.

However, multiple industry operations sources expressed the view that lines will continue to comply since the protocols are working, and they help the public have confidence in cruising.

One expert said the highly contagious Delta variant makes it even more imperative to keep the guard up.

Florida leads US in new COVID infections

Fueled by the Delta variant, Florida currently leads the nation in new COVID-19 infections, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Appeals court in no rush

Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals appears in no rush to rule on a lower court's decision in Florida's lawsuit against the CDC's authority in how COVID-19 is addressed aboard cruise ships. While the appeals court on Friday upheld District Court Judge Steven Merryday's ruling in the preliminary injunction, the appeal in the underlying case remains active.

The court is not requiring the CDC's brief until Sept. 1. The agency could file earlier but, when they do, the state has 30 days to respond, a legal expert said, adding that extensions are typically granted.

'The court is not moving this matter on an expedited basis,' he said.

The update added Carnival Corp.'s statement.