Conflicting messages from Trump administration about cruise ship safety

Mike Pence joined Florida dignitaries including Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the cruise industry on March 7, 2020, early during the COVID crisis. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Trump administration is getting its messages mixed regarding whether it’s safe to book a sea cruise amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Vice President Mike Pence held a news conference in Fort Lauderdale Saturday to announce plans to develop protocols to render cruises safer for otherwise healthy people.

However, this was the message from the U.S. Department of State: “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.” And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised: “travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.

Meanwhile, the stock market plunged Monday morning in response to coronavirus-related jitters and a related price war among petroleum-producing countries, forcing a brief market closure.

In an advisory, the State Department noted the “increased risk of COVID-19 infection in a cruise ship environment,” and also the fact that many countries have denied landing rights to cruise ships and prevented passengers from disembarking.

COVID-19 is the sometimes fatal respiratory illness attributed to the new coronavirus strain that has emerged from China.

“While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities,” the department said.

The CDC said: “Cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”

Florida political leaders — including Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — met with cruise industry leaders amid fears that the coronavirus outbreak could damage Florida’s massive tourism industry.

The vice president said he hoped “to ensure that the American people can continue as we deal with the coronavirus to enjoy the opportunities in the cruise line industry and be confident that the industry and our government at every level are working in concert to ensure their health and well-being.”

Florida is a major hub for the industry, with lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC, Celebrity, Disney, and Princess operating from five of Florida’s 15 public seaports.

The industry has released a series of guidelines governing its screening of passengers, including denial of boarding to people who have traveled from or through destinations in China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea. Additionally, embarking passengers will be screened for elevated body temperature.

Anyone who has come into contact with an infected person within 14 days would be denied passage.