Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared government entities can’t require people to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 to receive services.
The order applies to state agencies, political subdivisions and organizations that receive public funds, according to the governor’s office.
But a question lingers about whether Abbott’s orders will apply to a place in Galveston where vaccine requirements seem at least possible — the Port of Galveston’s cruise terminals.
The order sets up a potential conflict when departures from Galveston resume, if cruise lines demand proof of vaccination before people board their vessels.
Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees said Tuesday it was “too early to know” what Abbott’s passport ban would mean at the port, which is considered a utility of the city and has received funding from the city, the state and from federal agencies.
That’s because it’s still unclear when cruises will even return to Galveston and other U.S. ports, Rees said.
“The impact would be understood only when the CDC relaxes its current sailing restrictions,” Rees said. “The port is in constant contact with cruise officials in anticipation of cruise resumption.
“The port will work along with the cruise lines should vaccination be required for cruising,” he said.
Late Tuesday, Abbott’s press secretary said the executive order didn’t apply to private businesses but didn’t address private businesses operating from public facilities.
“Governor Abbott respects our state’s business community and does not believe government should unnecessarily interfere with the free market,” press secretary Renae Eze said.
“Like the old adage ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service,’ private businesses have every right to determine how to conduct and manage their business — the same as with requiring patrons to wear masks,” she said. “Only private and public entities that receive taxpayer funding are prohibited from requiring vaccine passports.”
Cruises haven’t sailed from the Port of Galveston since mid-March 2020 because of a combination of federal restrictions and voluntary cancellations by cruise companies.
The cruise industry recently has pushed for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to loosen some of its rules on allowing cruises to resume at U.S. ports.
The agency initially responded by reiterating its current restrictions would be in place until November. But it later slightly softened that stance by releasing new guidelines for returning to business.
Cruises might be able to operate restricted revenue sailings, which means with fewer than a maximum passenger load, by mid-summer, a CDC official said Tuesday.
“CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the conditional sailing order,” spokeswoman Jasmine Reed said.
That possibility relies on people continuing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, only Norwegian Cruise Line had asked the CDC for permission to operate cruises for fully vaccinated people. Norwegian doesn’t operate from the Port of Galveston.
Royal Caribbean Cruises is offering sailings for fully vaccinated people out of Caribbean ports beginning in June. But the company hasn’t said whether that will be a requirement for U.S. sailings when they resume.
Rees was happy about Norwegian’s plans and said vaccines appear to be the solution for safe, sustainable cruising in the near future. Cruises have resumed in Europe, Asia and Central America, which should be taken as evidence that cruising can be done safely in the United States, he said.
“While we don’t know the how and when right now, things are moving in the right direction,” Rees said.