Norwegian Cruise Lines will pull ships out of Florida if required to take unvaccinated passengers

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.

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New Jersey landlord sues to end lease with private prison company that jails immigrants at property

A property owner that leases a crowded, windowless warehouse in New Jersey to private prison company CoreCivic has sued to end its contract, alleging the private prison profiteer has failed to protect immigrants detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center (EDC) amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, NorthJersey.com reports.

Portview Properties says CoreCivic, which holds a federal contract to detain up to 145 people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has failed to meet basic safety standards inside, resulting in more than 50 cases of COVID-19. The report said that during one nine-day period last month, a dozen detained people tested positive.

“The company alleges that CoreCivic failed to meet the basic safety, health care, sanitation and hygiene needs of all those detained,” NorthJersey.com reports. “Furthermore, the lawsuit states, the company does not permit individuals to maintain social distancing, and that detainees sleep in dorms with 40 beds or cots in one room, clustered closely together, and must share a restroom.”

“Defendant’s failure to implement these required measures represents not only a threat to the health, safety, and wellbeing of those individuals detained within the EDC, but also, a breach of the ICE Contract and, therefore, its lease agreement with Plaintiff,” the report said the lawsuit the states. “The physical threat to these individuals, which has been exacerbated by Defendant’s inaction, has become even more dire in light of the spread of new variants of the virus causing COVID-19.” 

The allegations against CoreCivic are in no way shocking. Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, the first detained person to die from the virus while in ICE custody, had been detained at a California facility operated by CoreCivic. EDC itself made headlines in the first days of the pandemic, when a staffer went into self-quarantine after testing positive for the virus. The Marshall Project reported at the time that it was “the first case confirmed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of an employee contracting the virus.”

“How long has @CoreCivic ‘s ICE detention center in Elizabeth, NJ, been a problem?” tweeted reported Matt Katz. “In 1995 detainees attempted to take over the facility, making same allegations that continue today: inedible food, lack of fresh air, bugs, filth & crowded sleeping quarters.”

“Given the grave concerns expressed by those individuals who have experienced first-hand the dangerous conditions within the EDC, Plaintiff demanded assurances from Defendant that it is operating the EDC in accordance with its contractual obligation to adhere to and implement federal COVD-19 safety guidelines, regulations and requirements,” Gothamist reports, as stated in the lawsuit. “In response, Defendant offered only a naked statement that it is in compliance with its obligations under the ICE Contract.”

Interesting, because when members of Congress last year questioned private prison executives, including some from CoreCivic, about allegations of abuse against detainees, the executives feigned ignorance about what was going on inside their facilities. “In reality, people at CoreCivic facilities have been pepper-sprayed on at least four occasions” for protesting dangerous conditions amid the pandemic, Mother Jones reported at the time.

Should Portview succeed in its lawsuit, its contract with CoreCivic would be terminated more than a year early. NorthJersey.com reports the company had expressed interest in renewing its lease until 2027 (highlighting the ongoing need for the Biden administration to take steps to cancel ICE’s contracts altogether). “Edafe Okporo, a public health and gay rights activist who was detained at Elizabeth after fleeing Nigeria in 2016, said he wished the detention center could be turned into housing for asylum seekers,” Gothamist reported.

“The news of a potential possibility of closing the center came with a relief that no one would have to go through the horrible system as I did,” Okporo said in that report. “It’s coming late, but slow progress is better than no progress.”

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Vaccinations are slowly building, helping us turn a corner

Brian Karem/Bulwark:

Anti-Vaccine and Anti-Democracy

Two big national problems rolled into one.
 Share on TwitterShare via emailPrintIt appears we face two large crises in the United States. We actually are facing only one.

The first is the public health crisis. As more of us get our coronavirus vaccinations, it is becoming increasingly apparent that tens of millions of people are refusing to get a shot. So although COVID cases will likely drop significantly, we may not reach the vaccination level necessary for herd immunity—and therefore COVID could dangerously linger in some form for years to come.

The second crisis is the anti-democratic movement. We’ve been dealing with this for years, but it reached a dangerous new peak this year. Tens of millions of people believe lies about the 2020 election and continue to support the former president who instigated the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

These are not two separate problems.

In each case, public persuasion, using vetted facts, seems to be having very little effect. The public health challenge of the next few months can’t be disentangled from the political problem of the next few years.

Folks, if you’re following Arizona audit coverage, keep in mind: The AZ fight against the 11/3 results has been on blast for six months. Six months. And it is far from over.

— Brahm Resnik (@brahmresnik) May 7, 2021

NY Times:

Marooned at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Still Has Iron Grip on Republicans

The vilification of Liz Cheney and a bizarre vote recount in Arizona showed the damage from his assault on a bedrock of democracy: election integrity.

The churning dramas cast into sharp relief the extent to which the nation, six months after the election, is still struggling with the consequences of an unprecedented assault by a losing presidential candidate on a bedrock principle of American democracy: that the nation’s elections are legitimate.

https://t.co/r7k5E7tiTo

— Greg Dworkin (@DemFromCT) May 7, 2021

Molly Jong-Fast/Daily Beast:

Tucker Carlson May Be America’s Biggest Public Health Problem

Carlson knows anti-vaxxers have become a big part of Trump’s Republican Party and that they are easy marks as he hustles to up the ante and amp up the outrage.

One of the biggest problems for public health in America is that newly promoted and horribly ubiquitous Fox News host Tucker Carlson is smart, much smarter than his peers in Rupert Murdoch’s personal propaganda network. And Carlson keeps telling his vast viewership just how dangerous he suspects not the coronavirus, but the vaccine against it, is to their health.

I dug up the textbooks used by Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and some of the worst critics of teaching America’s true history. Also, you’ll be surprised how many Senators attended segregated schools On second thought, no you won’t. https://t.co/rIlpPSSwjK

— Michael Harriot (@michaelharriot) May 6, 2021

Pradheep J. Shanker/NRO:

Tucker Carlson’s Faulty Complaint about Coronavirus Vaccines

Social media have been a source of fabulous exchanges of data, ideas, and suggestions during this coronavirus pandemic, which otherwise has prevented us from communicating directly with other experts in the medical field. Early on in the pandemic, the ability to exchange ideas on a minute-to-minute basis likely saved many lives, especially as medical professionals struggled with dealing with this previously unseen and unpredictable disease.

But data, like social media, can be and often are misused. There are those in the media who have either failed to understand what the evidence and data meant, and then those who appear to be purposefully distorting the evidence for their own questionable ends.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson falls into this latter group.

In 2014 she presented herself as a moderate and her past career suggested as much – including her writings at Harvard and her work with Democrats like @SenatorShaheen https://t.co/HSuw50n0YO

— Brian Mann (@BrianMannADK) May 5, 2021

Andrew Joseph/STAT:

As the Covid-19 crisis ebbs in the U.S., experts brace for some to experience psychological fallout

As the pandemic set in last March, the percentage of people reporting they felt anxious or depressed spiked and has remained elevated since, according to survey data. Experts have also highlighted increases in sleeping problems and alcohol and other substance misuse, and point to clear causes: Uncertainty and fear about the coronavirus itself; job loss and housing and food insecurity; juggling working from home while dealing with cooped-up kids; grief and a loss of social cohesion as a result of restrictions.

The question is what comes next. During emergencies, some people take on the mentality of just needing to get through it. When they have, though, the full weight of what they’ve been through can hit.

The story of the GOP: @RuthMarcus traces Elise Stefanik’s transformation from Trump critic to Trump acolyte. Includes great examples of her previous criticism of him. Via @PostOpinions:https://t.co/mMZMAtXUqA

— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) May 7, 2021

NY Times:

The virus is an airborne threat, the C.D.C. acknowledges.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now states explicitly — in large, bold lettering — that airborne virus can be inhaled even when one is more than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online, is a change from the agency’s previous position that most infections were acquired through “close contact, not airborne transmission.”

They’ve been wrong about that for a long time.

Zeynep Tufekci/NY Times:

Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others. We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary. Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing. We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too. And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces.

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

Since the pandemic is far from over, with countries like India facing devastating surges, we need to understand both why this took so long to come about and what it will mean.

“Cheney’s courageous stand against the party of Trump is a stand against a party she helped build, a monster she helped create … Her latter-day epiphany is welcome, but it also comes far too late.” https://t.co/kyCfHWahQZ

— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) May 7, 2021

Marcy Wheeler:

FOUR WAYS BILLY BARR OBSTRUCTED THE INVESTIGATION INTO RUDY GIULIANI

Eventually, I want to do a post quantifying all the damage to national security Billy Barr did by thwarting an influence-peddling investigation into Rudy Giuliani in 2019. But first, I want to quantify four ways that Barr is known to have obstructed the investigation into Rudy, effectively stalling the investigation for over 500 days.

The effort is helped by Rudy lawyer Robert Costello’s public claim that DOJ obtained a search warrant on Rudy’s iCloud account sometime in late 2019. That indicates that the investigation into Rudy’s ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (whether Rudy was the primary target or their business, Fraud Guarantee) already showed probable cause that a crime had been committed before Barr took repeated steps to undermine the investigation.

3/ Although conservatives, White Evangelicals, and rural Americans are less enthusiastic about getting vaccinated, they’re coming around:https://t.co/5TjcfFYVuDhttps://t.co/g6eKBbsV7s pic.twitter.com/aQqGqd1kNZ

— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA (@celinegounder) May 7, 2021

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News Roundup: GOP feeds conspiracy theories; Psaki does her job; Liz Cheney meets roosting chickens

It’s Friday, again! The good news is that it feels like Fridays come every seven days or so. That being said, one year ago at this time it felt like Fridays came once every few weeks, and always with bad news. There is hope! Here’s some of today’s stories you may have missed:

From the community:

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According to former DeSantis staffers, the governor is an awful person in private, too

In case you didn’t already know that Ron DeSantis is an awful, Hardee’s grease trap of a human being, the following eye-opening revelations about the country’s foremost COVID-19 superspreader are bound to disabuse you of any notion that he’s got a soft spot—unless you’re talking about his wee cartilaginous skull.

Seems he’s not simply awful to state employees who think COVID-19 is a serious problem that needs to be honestly confronted. He’s pretty much a dick all the time. If, during his next press conference, he squeaked up to the podium in a pair of big, hairy, novelty scrotum shoes, I would not be surprised. (Pro tip: Do not Google “scrotum shoes.” It won’t end well, as I’ve only recently discovered.)

So this guy appears to have presidential aspirations, assuming Donald Trump realizes that he’s just a cacophonous panic yam who has no business in politics or, more likely, spontaneously sluices through a sewer grate after the vaccine he took turns him into the powerful X-Men mutant Languid Goop Puddle. (I really don’t think Trump will run again. He will, however, sop up lots of money and attention, leaving mini-Trumps like DeSantis in an indefinite holding pattern.)

In Friday’s edition of Politico’s Playbook, the curtain is pulled back a bit more on the inner workings of Team DeathSantis, and what we’re treated to is an unnerving glimpse at Prince Dick himself. The news outlet spoke with “a dozen or so” former DeSantis aides and consultants who all agreed: “DeSantis treats staff like expendable widgets.” 

From Politico:

— A “support group” of former DeSantis staffers meets regularly to trade war stories about their hardship working for the governor. The turnover in his office and among his campaign advisers is well known among Republicans: In three of his five full years in Congress, he ranked in at least the 70th percentile in terms of highest turnover in a House office, according to data compiled by Legistorm. In the governor’s office, he has only two staffers who started with him when he was a junior member of Congress.

— Within six months of taking office as governor in 2019, DeSantis fired five staffers. One was a 23-year-old scheduler who’d been with him since the beginning of his gubernatorial race. Shortly after she was sent packing, an unnamed member of DeSantis’ administration was quoted in a Florida blog trashing her performance. A month later, his deputy chief of staff left, prompting Florida reporters to press him about the rapid churn in his operation.

— Another story relayed to us by five former staffers: At the beginning of his administration, DeSantis directed the Florida Republican Party leader to fire a party official who had cancer — on that person’s first week back from surgery.

Hmm. That staffer wasn’t Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, was it? Because that would really be a story. 

Politico also notes that DeSantis frequently blames staff for his own mistakes. For instance, after DeSantis went on Fox News to beg Floridians not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Black Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, he and his wife allegedly “chewed out his campaign staff for not cleaning up the mess” before “DeSantis brought in a whole new group of advisers.”

Politico also reports that aides were forced to bring cupcakes to meetings just to get DeSantis to show up; so rare were his visits to his own campaign headquarters, that on the night he won the gubernatorial primary, he allegedly said, “Wow, I didn’t know this many people worked for me.”

Another former staffer was particularly blunt about DeSantis: “Loyalty and trust, that is not a currency he deals in.” 

None of this is a surprise. This is the same guy who basically sneezed in the rest of the country’s face by giving the green light to out-of-state disease vectors spring breakers earlier this year. And when vaccines were still in short supply, guess who got first dibs? Oh, yes. Rich people! It’s nice to see them finally catch a break, huh?

It’s no secret that DeSantis appears to have his eye on the White House. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky aspiration, because apparently being an enormous yawning asshole is now a prerequisite for securing the GOP nomination.

But that doesn’t make it any less scary.

It made comedian Sarah Silverman say “THIS IS FUCKING BRILLIANT” and prompted author Stephen King to shout “Pulitzer Prize!!!” (on Twitter, that is). What is it? The viral letter that launched four hilarious Trump-trolling books. Get them all, including the finale, Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, at this link. Just $12.96 for the pack of 4! Or if you prefer a test drive, you can download the epilogue to Goodbye, Asshat for the low, low price of FREE.

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