In April, Republican presidential hopeful and Trump imitator Ron DeSantis made a dramatic public gesture of issuing an executive order prohibiting Florida businesses from requiring the state’s citizens to show proof of vaccination from COVID-19. In a self-laudatory speech this week, DeSantis explained that for those Floridians who choose to remain unvaccinated, “no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision.” The intended effect of this EO was to affirm to DeSantis’ voter base his commitment to vaccine denialism, a necessary byproduct of the same “hoax” mentality regarding the COVID-19 virus employed by Donald Trump in his failed attempt to get reelected.
But the practical ramifications and actual legality of the order (and of the codifying legislation produced by an equally Trump-rabid Florida state legislature earlier this week) were never really explained. What if a business, for example, found that its bottom line—or worse—its very existence were threatened by being forced to provide services to unvaccinated people?
Nowhere does this unforeseen collision between an anti-science ideology and business reality come into focus quite as sharply as on a cruise ship.
As reported by Hannah Sampson for The Washington Post:
Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has said it intends to require 100 percent of passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated to sail. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued an executive order in March barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations. He signed that order into state law on Monday.
Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said that the company is “in talks” with the governor’s office, and believes that its requirement of full vaccination for customers on its cruise ships falls under federal, as opposed to state law, with the implicit assumption that federal law would preempt any state legislation to the contrary. Del Rio is adamant that the company will not be allowing unvaccinated passengers on its ships.
Nor should it. Cruise ships typically stop at various international ports-of call, allowing passengers to disembark and mingle with the local population. That fact alone should end the discussion right there. But in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships were also horrific early examples of mass spread of the virus, attaining a highly visible and highly negative perception at the outset of the pandemic. As noted by AARP:
The industry suffered a public relations calamity when the virus exploded last February on big ships like the Diamond Princess, spurring ports to turn others away out of fear that passengers might transmit it.
Between March 1 and July 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered nearly 3,000 cases of COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 and 34 deaths across 123 ships.
And while it’s frankly curious that anyone would want to get aboard such a ship now, given their record of inadequate medical preparation and treatment to handle COVID-19, apparently there is a subset of the population eager to once again set sail on them, even as the pandemic continues unabated in many areas of the country.
It seems clear, however, that the cruise industry is aware it’s facing a potential extinction moment if another publicized outbreak occurs on even one of their ships. Which is why you have corporate CEO’s making statements like this:
“[A]t the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and god forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from,” (Del Rio) said. “And we can operate from the Caribbean for ships that otherwise would’ve gone to Florida.”
It isn’t just Norwegian, either. As Sampson points out, DeSantis’ order and the Florida legislation actually undermines Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for cruise ships preparing to operate out of the U.S. as early as July of this year.
But he has sought to undermine one of the key safety measures that many cruise lines have embraced: guarantees that the thousands of fellow passengers will be inoculated. As part of their plans to start cruising again, either from the United States when permitted or from other countries, cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Virgin, Crystal and Norwegian’s brands have said they will require everyone on board or every adult on board to be fully vaccinated.
What isn’t exactly clear is why cruise ships should have any greater standing than an ordinary business concerned about protecting its customers, employees, and of course, its bottom line. Airlines, bus companies, taxis, and other modes of transportation face similar risks, at least to some degree. So do hotels, and for that matter, bars and restaurants. The list of work environments possibly subject to rapidly spreading COVID-19 infections among unvaccinated people is effectively unlimited. How long will it be before companies realize that, particularly in a state famous for catering to its elderly, it might be much better for business to have everyone vaccinated?
This is what happens when ad hoc ideology and reckless political pandering meets scientific, medical—and in this case, economic—reality. Although it may take a while to sink in, reality doesn’t care. Unlike politicians looking towards the next election, it has all the time in the world.