It should probably come as no surprise that during one of the most politically charged climates in recent memory, the decision over whether or not to allow cruising to resume has become a political football.
The CDC extended its cruise ship No Sail Order by one more month, but apparently, the relatively short extension was because the White House would not allow CDC director Robert Redfield to extend it as far as he had wanted to, through February. Redfield was overruled, a report from news site Axios claimed, in part because the cruise industry is a major economic driver in Florida, "a key battleground state."
Less than two weeks ahead of the meeting where Redfield was allegedly thwarted, Florida's two republican Senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, stepped up pressure on the government to end the No Sail Order by introducing the Set Sail Safely Act, aimed at accelerating the cruise industry's return to service. In introducing the bill, Rubio said "the cruise and maritime industries are vital to the prosperity of our state's economy."
But last week, Congresswoman Doris Matsui, a Democrat from California, sent a press release with the headline: "MATSUI DEMANDS CDC EXPLAIN DANGEROUS MODIFICATION TO CRUISE SHIP ORDER."
In a letter to Redfield, Matsui said the one-month extension "represents an alarming departure from previous Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy for cruise ships, and I am concerned it may threaten public health. Creating new opportunities for Covid-19 to spread before the virus is contained could lead to the additional loss of human life and significantly delay economic recovery."
The language in the latest CDC's No Sail Order extension hardly pulled punches. While the extension is only for one month, the order's language does not indicate the CDC is convinced the industry is ready. For example, it says there is "current evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of [Covid-19], even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities, and would likely spread the infection into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the United States."
And while the cruise industry has been touting the return of cruising in Europe as evidence that the industry can safely resume here with the proper protocols in place, the CDC seemed to view those examples differently, saying "recent passenger voyages in foreign countries continue to have outbreaks, despite cruise ship operators having extensive health and safety protocols to prevent the transmission of [Covid-19] on board and spread to communities where passengers disembark."
ASTA CEO Zane Kerby Friday left partisan politics out of his criticism of the CDC when ASTA threatened to sue the federal government over the No Sail Order. The Society called its continuation "negligent and wrongful" and said it has resulted in "extreme economic injury to the travel industry."
"This action that they're taking is besmirching the reputation of the cruise lines," Kerby added. "It's not allowing them to have the same opportunity that other businesses have in order to safely return people to the seas. It's completely an unacceptable position. There's nothing left to do except to put them under the microscope."
Between ASTA's threat and Matsui's letter, one thing is clear: Whether it's because they think it's treated with kid gloves or it's treated unfairly, people are starting to wonder what is motivating the CDC's attitude toward the cruise industry. Here's hoping we all get some clarity.