White House blocks CDC on Florida cruise ship ban amid election concerns

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The White House reportedly overruled the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over a ban on passenger cruises in Florida, in an apparent attempt at appealing to voters in the swing state.



a large ship in a body of water


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Florida, where Mr Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden have been almost tied in recent polls, typically brings-in billions in income.

But CDC orders, originally introduced in April at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, had banned cruise passenger ships with a “no sail” order, in an attempt to control Covid-19’s spread.

That order was due to expire on Wednesday, which could have seen Florida’s cruise industry restart after a five month absence without an extension.  

Making an appeal to the White House coronavirus task force this week, CDC director Robert Redfield reportedly wanted to extend the “no sail” ban until next year, amid coronavirus concerns.

According to Axios, the CDC was instead overruled at that meeting, with the vice president outlining alternatives.

The White House and CDC later announced that the “no sail” ban would be extended up-until October 31, in line with the cruise industry’s self-imposed deadline – but months before Mr Redfield had requested.

It is the latest point of contention between Mr Redfield and the Trump administration, who were described as undermining the CDC director on public health policy.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has berated the director for promiting mask wearing and cautioning against his claims that a coronavirus vaccine would soon be possible.

Defending the decision, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgensrern denied any political motivation behind the October 31 deadline for cruises, in comments made to Axios.

“The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public

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White House blocked CDC order to keep cruise ships docked

The White House has blocked a new order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February, a step that would have displeased the politically powerful tourism industry in the crucial swing state of Florida.

The current “no sail” policy is set to expire Wednesday. Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, had recommended the extension, worried that cruise ships could become viral hot spots, as they did at the beginning of the pandemic.

But at a meeting of the coronavirus task force Tuesday, Redfield’s plan was overruled, according to a senior federal health official who was not authorized to comment and so spoke on condition of anonymity. The administration will instead allow the ships to sail after Oct. 31, the date the industry had already agreed to in its own, voluntary plan. The rejection of the CDC’s plan was first reported by Axios.

Redfield, who has been scolded by President Donald Trump for promoting mask wearing and cautioning that vaccines won’t be widely available until next year, worried before the Tuesday decision that he might get fired and had considered resigning if he were required to oversee a policy that compromised public health, according to a senior administration official as well as a person close to Redfield.

The cruise ship industry has considerable political influence in Florida. The Cruise Lines International Association said that the industry generates $53 billion in economic activity. The Florida Ports Council said that state’s cruise industry, the largest in the nation, has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Republican politicians in Florida and cruise industry lobbyists have called for ending the no-sail order. “I urge the CDC not to extend or renew the ‘No Sail Order,’” Carlos A. Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, said in a statement Saturday.

On Sept. 16, Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio proposed the Set Sail Safely Act, which would create a maritime task force to work on the logistical changes needed to allow the industry to resume operations safely.

“The Florida delegation is very supportive and is trying to work with the administration and the CDC to see what efforts we can do to get the industry up and operating,” said Michael Rubin, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Ports Council. “It’s still the only industry that’s not allowed to operate at the moment.”

The cruise industry association, which says it represents 95% of oceangoing passenger ship capacity globally, is seeking a gradual resumption of sailing, starting with voyages containing crew members posing as passengers. Its plan is based in large part on recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel, which was established by several of the major cruise lines and was led by Michael Leavitt, the former Utah governor and health secretary, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration. Some CDC representatives attended the panel’s meetings.

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the FDA, who serves on

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White House Blocked C.D.C. Order to Keep Cruise Ships Docked

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the F.D.A., who serves on the Healthy Sail group, said they have recommended that cruise passengers be tested before arriving at the ship, and then again before boarding.

“The one thing that you want to make sure of is that the virus doesn’t get on there in the first place,” Dr. Ostroff said.

Dr. Ostroff acknowledged that passengers who are exposed to the virus en route to the ship would not necessarily test negative, but could be infectious. He also said that the group’s other recommendations, such as allowing fewer passengers, enforcing mask wearing and installing improved air filtration systems, aim to limit the spread of the virus on a ship should an infected passenger board.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, denied that the administration’s cruise ship plans were politically motivated. “The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country,” he said.

Dr. Redfield is in a precarious position after weeks of public confrontations with the White House.

On Friday, he told a colleague that he was concerned that Dr. Scott W. Atlas, one of Mr. Trump’s top coronavirus advisers, was providing the president with misleading information, according to an NBC reporter who overheard Dr. Redfield’s telephone conversation on a commercial airplane.

The incident followed Mr. Trump’s rebuke of the director earlier this month, after Dr. Redfield testified at a Senate hearing that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were perhaps even more important than a vaccine for curbing the spread of the virus. Mr. Trump told reporters later that day that he believed the director had “made a mistake.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president claimed, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

The C.D.C. under Dr. Redfield’s leadership has received harsh criticism from scientists about its handling of the of the pandemic, beginning with its botched rollout of testing kits last spring. This month, The New York Times reported that political appointees in the health department had pushed through C.D.C. guidelines — despite objections from the agency’s own scientists — saying that people without symptoms did not need to be tested for the coronavirus, even if they had close contact with an infected person. The agency then updated these guidelines to recommend testing, in line with public health experts.

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