TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In a potentially ominous message for Florida’s cruise-ship industry, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that people should avoid cruise travel "regardless of vaccination status" because of the spread of COVID-19.
The health agency said outbreaks have been reported aboard cruise ships as the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus has helped drive up infections.
"Even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the agency said on its website. "The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose."
The agency said people who travel on cruise ships should make sure they are fully vaccinated and get tested for COVID-19 before and after their trips.
The CDC notice came after months of efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody to fight federal COVID-19 restrictions on the cruise industry and to prevent requirements that cruise passengers show proof of vaccination.
A Tampa federal judge sided with the state in June and issued a preliminary injunction against CDC restrictions on the industry, while a Miami federal judge in August backed Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in a challenge to Florida’s ban on so-called "vaccine passports." The vaccine passport law blocked businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, though the federal judge’s ruling only applied to Norwegian.
Appeals in both of those cases are pending at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The CDC notice Thursday came as Florida and other states have seen massive surges in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, Orange County cautioned Thursday that case numbers could go higher after social gatherings around Christmas.
Orange County, which takes part in a program that evaluates wastewater for traces of COVID-19, said it received data Wednesday that showed "historic increases of COVID-19 remnants in the county’s wastewater service areas."
"This data helps predict infections four to 10 days before we see changes in our community’s caseload, allowing county leadership and medical professionals to adjust public health resources accordingly," Ed Torres, director of Orange County Utilities, said in a prepared statement. "Because both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of the virus shed remnants in their waste, this data provides an accurate picture of how the virus is spreading in our community regardless of the number of people tested."
Florida hospitals also have seen steady increases this week in numbers of inpatients with COVID-19, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The federal agency’s website Thursday reported that 4,433 Florida hospital inpatients had COVID-19. That was up from a reported 3,836 inpatients with COVID-19 on Wednesday, 3,148 on Tuesday and 2,406 on Monday.
While hospitalization numbers have increased, they remain far below the totals this summer, when the delta variant of the coronavirus spread through the state. For instance, Florida had 15,177 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sept. 1, according to federal data.