White House blocked February extension of CDC 'no sail' cruise ship order: reports

The White House blocked a February extension of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “no sail” order for cruise ships, The New York Times and Axios reported.

CDC Director Robert Redfield reportedly recommended an extension of the current order, which is set to expire on Wednesday, during a coronavirus task force meeting on Tuesday. 

But a senior health official told the Times and sources told Axios that Redfield was ultimately overruled as the administration plans to extend the order until Oct. 31 and then allow ships to sail. 

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Public health officials have reportedly said the rejection of Redfield’s recommendation is politically motivated to avoid upsetting the cruise industry in Florida, a swing state ahead of the presidential election that a number of polls show is a neck-and-neck race between Trump and Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE

The administration’s timeline aligns with what the cruise industry came up with in its voluntary plan, which former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt (R) and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb led. The industry plan calls for a gradual return to normal with its first trips taking crew members acting as guests and testing guests twice — before arrival and before boarding, according to the Times. 

White House spokesperson Brian Morganstern told Axios in a statement, “The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country.”

“It is not about politics,” he added. “It is about saving lives.”

The CDC did not immediately return a request from The Hill for comment. 

Industry representatives are scheduled to meet officials on Friday to “describe their transformation and dozens of ways that they will mitigate risk and ensure public health,” a White House official told Axios

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“And in that meeting there will be a discussion and afterwards a decision will need to be made about whether the order needs to be extended,” the official added.

Axios first reported the task force’s rejection of Redfield’s “no sail” order extension on Tuesday. 

The coronavirus pandemic has already hit the industry hard as it has virtually shut down since March after cruise ships became hotspots for coronavirus, including the Diamond Princess, which recorded more than 700 positive cases and at least 14 deaths. 

The CDC reports 2,973 cruise-related COVID-19 or COVID-19-like cases and 34 deaths from March 1 to July 10, according to the Times. 

The rejection of Redfield’s recommendation also comes as tensions between the CDC and White House have increased as some health experts accuse the Trump administration of reopening too quickly and not following the science to stem the spread of the virus.

A senior administration official told the Times that Redfield was worried before the taskforce decision that he could get fired and considered resigning if the administration’s actions would risk public health.

The CDC director told a Senate panel earlier this month that a vaccine might not be available until the middle of next year and that masks were more important than a vaccine. Trump quickly refuted Redfield’s comments saying he “made a mistake” and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

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