Texas Joins Florida Lawsuit Challenging COVID-19 Cruise Restrictions It Says Cost The State Millions

The states are looking to reverse CDC guidance that grounded ships for a year and implemented lengthy regulations for their return.

Gail Delaughter / Houston Public Media
Galveston’s new transit facility is across the street from its cruise ship terminal

The state of Texas has intervened in a Florida lawsuit looking to eliminate COVID-19 restrictions on cruises, saying in a court document filed Wednesday that the pandemic regulations have cost the state millions in tax money.

According to the civil complaint, more than 1 million cruise passengers depart from Texas ports per year, creating $1.6 billion in direct spending and supporting about 27,000 jobs.

But through March 2021, the effective shutdown of the industry led to $1.2 billion in spending losses, and the loss of 23,000 jobs.

“As a result of these losses, cruise companies and other tourism related businesses have suffered massive financial losses and have been forced to furlough or lay off workers,” the suit reads. “As such, Texas has suffered decreased tax revenue and incurred increased costs due to the payment of unemployment benefits.”

Because Texas does not have an income tax, the state argued that sales tax revenue is crucial to the economy.

The lawsuit also says Texas’ oil and gas industry has been impacted by the grounding of cruise ships.

The CDC issued a no sail order for cruise ships on March 14 of last year, shutting down the industry as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the United States.

That order ran through Oct. 30, when the CDC issued what it called a conditional sailing order, laying out the steps needed for the cruise industry to reopen.

According to the order, cruises need to establish a crew laboratory testing protocol, plan simulated voyages to prepare for a COVID-19 risk, go through a certification process, and return to service “in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and U.S. communities.”

Further guidance issued in April requires cruise ship operators to request CDC approval at least 30 days before a simulated voyage and provide additional information to the CDC at least 60 days before operations can resume.

“(T)he CDC has built in a three-month waiting period from the time it issues guidance for simulated voyages and when a cruise ship might potentially be permitted to set sail,” the lawsuit says.

The state argued in its civil complaint that the Port of Galveston is well prepared for a possible COVID-19 cruise outbreak, because of its proximity to the Galveston National Laboratory at University of Texas Medical Branch, and because the port already has an infectious disease management plan.

The port previously activated that plan during a 2014 Ebola scare on a cruise ship, according to the state. The port also instituted a COVID-19 outbreak training on a cruise ship in 2020, before the industry shut down, according to the complaint.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

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