CDC not answering questions: “Please feel free to request the information through our FOIA office.”

By Paul D. Thacker

The cruise industry looked, quite literally, dead in the water.

As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in early 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a catastrophic “No Sail Order” to the industry, stopping all cruises from the United States in order to control outbreaks. That July, the CDC extended the order until September, leaving cruise companies facing months of ships without passengers and the very real possibility of industry-wide bankruptcy.

But the cruise industry had a possible ace up their sleeve—a PR agency that would soon know it’s way around the CDC.

After the March 2020 “No Sail Order”, Royal Caribbean and their PR firm Weber Shandwick ramped up an award-winning PR campaign they titled “From Floating Petri Dish to Safer than Main Street.” That September Weber Shandwick won a potential $50 million contract to embed their employees at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), the CDC group that works to control respiratory viruses and viral outbreaks.

A month after Weber Shandwick won the contract, on Oct. 30, the CDC announced a framework for cruise ships to return to business. Embedded in the CDC’s press statement was a quote from former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who was co-chair of a PR campaign put together by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line called the Healthy Sail Panel.

“CDC and the cruise industry have the same goal: A return to passenger sailing, but only when its safe. Under the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, cruise lines have been given a pathway to systematically demonstrate their ability to sail while keeping passengers, crew and their destination ports safe and healthy.”

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