President Joe Biden implored the governors of Florida and Texas to allow private business to mandate that their customers be vaccinated, citing the high case counts of Covid-19 in both states.
Florida in April passed legislation forbidding businesses from prohibiting entry based on vaccination status, which has been a central part of most cruise lines’ return-to-service strategy. The industry has had to readjust its vaccination policies on sailings from Florida and Texas in order to comply with state law.
In remarks made at the White House on Aug. 3, Biden noted that the escalation of cases in the U.S. is particularly concentrated in states with low vaccination rates, and that Florida and Texas combined account for one-third of all new Covid-19 cases in the U.S.
“We need leadership from everyone. And if some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it. I say to these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
The Florida law has put the state and its governor, Ron DeSantis, on a collision course with the lines’ commitment to the CDC to maintain 95% vaccination thresholds, leading Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings last month to sue the state to invalidate the prohibition.
In its complaint, NCLH said it is in “an impossible dilemma as it prepares to set sail from Florida: NCLH will find itself either on the wrong side of health and safety and the operative federal legal framework, or else on the wrong side of Florida law.”
NCLH’s restart plan calls for 100% passenger vaccination. The company plans to resume sailing from Florida ports on Aug. 15 and said in the lawsuit, “Despite the ongoing global pandemic and the accelerating spread of the delta variant, Florida continues to prohibit us from requiring vaccine documentation, which we believe would enable us to resume sailing in the safest way possible.”
NCLH said Florida’s law banning businesses from requiring vaccination is “on the wrong side of federal law, public health, science and is not in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit.”
In a declaration to the court, NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio said, “The fact that 34 million Americans have contracted Covid-19 and 600,000 have died tells me that the trifecta of mask-wearing, social distancing and washing hands were not sufficient to curb the transmission and effects of Covid-19.”
Other cruise lines operating from Florida have changed their policies from requiring vaccination to strongly recommending that guests 12 and older are vaccinated. Guests who aren’t vaccinated must pay for Covid testing throughout the cruise, buy travel insurance with Covid-19 coverage and wear face coverings. They also are barred from certain bars and restaurants and other venues, plus they are not permitted to disembark in some ports.
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