• Cruising contributes $53 billion to the U.S. economy, creating 421,711 jobs
  • The move is seen as a possible effort by the White House to shore up political support in Florida, which is heavily dependent on tourism
  • Cruise ships became floating petri dishes early in the pandemic

The White House rejected a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February, opening the way for ships to set sail Oct. 31.

Axios reported CDC Director Robert Redfield’s recommendation was overruled during a coronavirus task force meeting Tuesday. The industry has been shut down since March when the pandemic took hold.

Early in the outbreak several ships were left stranded at sea with infected passengers as countries refused to allow them to dock, fearing spread of the contagion. The CDC reported there were 2,973 cruise-related suspected COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths from March 1 to July 10.

The cruise industry contributed nearly $53 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, carrying some 26 million passengers and generating 421,711 jobs, the Cruise Lines International Association reported.

Vice President Mike Pence told Redfield the administration would be moving ahead with a different plan when Redfield proposed keeping the ban in place until February. White House officials called Redfield’s position unreasonable.

Axios said public health officials fear the cruise ship decision is politically motivated ahead of the election, aimed at securing support in Florida, which is heavily dependent on tourism.

A meeting is set for Friday between cruise industry representatives and administration officials.

The move is the latest White House action undermining the CDC recommendations. It earlier forced guidelines to be rewritten and accused career scientists of being members of the “deep state” cabal working against President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Trump, who has been demanding a swift reopening of the economy, has contradicted Redfield on several points, including the effectiveness of mask-wearing in mitigating the spread of the virus and when a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available.

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have called for an end to the no-sail order and proposed a task force to come up with recommendations to allow the industry to resume operations safely.

“The one thing that you want to make sure of is that the virus doesn’t get on there [any ship] in the first place,” Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told The New York Times, suggesting that passengers be tested for coronavirus before boarding.

The Healthy Sail group, which was formed by several major cruise lines, also recommended ships carry fewer passengers, enforce mask-wearing requirements and install improved air filtration systems.