Exclusive: Democratic lawmakers push CDC to enforce cruise restrictions as GOP bill aims to restart industry
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) are urging Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle P. Walensky to maintain current restrictions on cruising amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We write today with significant concern about the prospect of premature resumption of cruise ship operations that could threaten public safety and increase the spread of the coronavirus," the two Democrats said in a letter to Walensky Wednesday.
Blumenthal and Matsui asked Walensky to uphold the CDC's "Conditional Sailing Order," which prescribes a phased approach to returning cruise ships to U.S. waters. The order, issued in late October, did not provide a clear date for the resumption of sailing; nor did the additional guidance the CDC published in early April.
"Failing to adhere to this guidance could create unsafe conditions that jeopardize public health," wrote Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Matsui, who serves on the House Subcommittee on Health as well as the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection & Commerce.
This isn't the first time the pair has tried to push the CDC to prevent the resumption of cruising. Blumenthal and Matsui urged the CDC to reinstate its No Sail Order in November after it was replaced with the Conditional Sail Order.
While they acknowledged that the country is making inroads against COVID-19 in the form of increased vaccination rates, they noted that the war is isn't over yet.
"COVID-19 remains a grave public health risk that requires ongoing vigilance," Blumenthal and Matsui warned. "Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress."
In a statement provided by spokesperson George Hatamiya, Matsui told USA TODAY, "With the CDC’s recently released safety guidance, we wanted to reinforce the need for strict enforcement and safety precautions in the face of efforts to undermine them as we continue to battle new COVID cases across the nation."
In addition to urging Walensky to continue enforcing the current restrictions, Blumenthal and Matsui said that the CDC should also be prepared to halt cruises again should future outbreaks occur on passenger ships.
Their letter also comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought by Florida against the CDC last week and new legislation proposed by Republican Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida and Dan Sullivan of Alaska Tuesday aiming to override the CDC's restrictions on cruising and get ships sailing by July.
The cruise industry also pushed the CDC to drop its "outdated" restrictions on the travel sector in March.
"It is absolutely critical that we listen to scientists and health and safety experts over the industry and its profit-driven executives," Blumenthal and Matsui concluded.