A couple of weeks ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update its guidelines for the cruise industry - which has been shut down since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars have been lost in Florida as a result.
DeSantis and cruise industry executives pointed to an increase in vaccinations, laid out plans for getting back on the water safely, and asked to return to business as early as this summer.
"The CDC hasn’t updated any of its findings with current data to justify the lockdown of this industry," said DeSantis.
Now, the agency has. But, the updated guidelines might not be what the industry wanted to hear.
The CDC calls for increasing - from weekly to daily - reporting of COVID-19 cases and illness. The agency also wants routine testing for crew members.
And, before returning to operations with passengers, the CDC is also mandating simulated voyages first - to let the crew and port workers practice new procedures before sailing with passengers.
In a statement, the Cruise Lines International Association called the update "disappointing... unduly burdensome, largely unworkable."
Cruise lines insist they can operate safely and have a plan to do just that. But most, including ships that sail from Tampa, would require proof of vaccination.
That could put cruise companies at odds with DeSantis, who just days after advocating for the industry signed an executive order to ban vaccine passports or anything that forces people to prove they’ve been immunized.
"It is completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine," DeSantis said.
"That’s going to be a real issue," said Don O’Neal - who operates the Travelworld Travel Agency.
O’Neal and other travel experts say it would be hard to protect passengers without some sort of vaccine mandate. Proof of vaccination could also help shield the cruise lines from liability or COVID outbreaks that could cripple the industry.
O’Neal says some also question whether Gov. DeSantis has jurisdiction over cruise ships.
"They are not traveling within the state of Florida. They are departing the state of Florida," said O’Neal. "Not to split hairs, I’m not sure how that’s going to fall."
For now, some cruise lines are planning trips originating from Bermuda, Barbados the Bahamas, and Jamaica as early as June with no stops planned in the U.S.
Proof of vaccination will be required, and a test, perhaps, could influence the rules here.
"The cruise lines are going to make the argument in order to have the safest people on the ships they’re going to say that’s a minimum to have a vaccine to board," said O’Neal.
So far, Israel is the only country to fully implement the travel passport concept. Some European countries are also considering it.
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