U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to carve out a cruise exemption to the state's ban on businesses requiring proof of vaccination, saying that the Florida law "could impact the health and well-being of millions of Caribbean residents when cruises resume to the region."
Bryan said that ensuring the cruise industry reopens with vaccinated passengers is essential to the tourism economies of the USVI and the wider Caribbean.
While congratulating the Florida governor for his commitment to health, civil liberties and economic revitalization, Bryan called for an exception that would enable vaccination checks for outbound passengers on cruise ships.
"The bill you signed into law (which goes into effect on July 1, 2021) may negatively impact the USVI and other ports of call in the Caribbean," Bryan said. He highlighted CDC approvals for cruises to begin sailing this summer from U.S. ports with strict health and safety guidelines, such as the vaccination of 95% of passengers and crew members.
Because most Caribbean cruises originate in Florida, Bryan said "our ports are in the direct line of fire."
Bryan said that while the USVI's two hospitals are equipped to care for the territory's residents, they lack the resources to address a potentially larger public health crisis.
"The lack of infrastructure puts us at a disadvantage for any crisis -- health or Mother Nature. This is true of not only the Virgin Islands but also most of the countries in the region," the governor wrote in his letter to DeSantis.
"This is why I implore you to reconsider with a lens the negative impact that your legislation may have on residents of the Caribbean. The cruise lines and tourism employees, many of whom are of Caribbean descent, are now almost fully vaccinated and ready to get back to work," he wrote.
He asked DeSantis to consider a cruise exemption "so that Caribbean destinations can feel safe on arrival and disembarkation of cruise passengers and crew. This will be a big win for the people of the Caribbean and the Caribbean expatriates who live in your state."
Bryan also shared a communique with the leadership of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), inviting support from regional leaders to work with the USVI in finding an agreeable path forward to welcoming back cruise ships and their passengers in as safe a way as possible.