Murkowski Presses CDC Officials on Frustrations over Mask Mandates on Fishing Vessels and Guidance for Resuming Cruise Ships

Murkowski Calls Mask Mandate for Fishing Industry “Crazy Policy”

In a U.S. Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on the federal government’s COVID response efforts, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) pressed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to implement common sense, safety-focused face mask standards for fishing vessels. Senator Murkowski also spoke to the negative repercussions to Alaska’s tourism industry and overall economy due to the CDC’s inefficiency in finalizing guidance for cruise ship companies to resume operations in U.S. waters.

HELP Hearing 05.11.21

Click here for video of Senator Murkowski questioning the CDC Director.

During the hearing, Senator Murkowski expressed significant concern for the safety of members of the fishing industry due to the federal mask mandate. The federal law, enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, requires that persons traveling on a conveyance or at a transportation hub wear a mask for the duration of their travel. Senator Murkowski pointed out that requiring fishing industry workers to wear a mask at all times when aboard a vessel is not a commonsense approach but rather an added safety hazard to an already dangerous work environment.

“So I’ve got fisherman, commercial fisherman that are out there in the water – I’ve got crabbers, salmon fisherman, and cod fisherman that are trying to deal with a mask because they are concerned about failure to comply. This is more of a safety hazard than anything else. You’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is soggy wet – tell me how anybody thinks this is a sane and sound policy?” asked Senator Murkowski. “You’ve got a situation right now where the fishermen are more concerned about the liability in failing to have the mask on rather than prudent marine safety protocols. This is absolutely, absolutely a crazy policy. I don’t understand how we put our Coast Guard men and women in a situation where they know that safety is an issue, a broader safety issue, than the fear of transmission when you are outdoor, in the elements and you are now being required to wear a mask. So I would hope the CDC would reconsider this quickly, quickly, quickly.”

Dr. Walensky responded that the CDC is in the process of finalizing industry-specific guidance for exactly the reason Senator Murkowski outlined.

Senator Murkowski also raised frustrations regarding the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, after learning that additional guidance has yet to be published. Murkowski cited continuous efforts by the Alaska Congressional Delegation to work with the agency to finalize the guidance in order to save any of the 2021 tourist season. 

“Our reality is that if you can’t get ships turned north now, there is no season, whether it is for one week or one month. And so I guess Dr. Walensky I’m going to ask you one more time, can you give Alaskans any guidance at all with regards to the ability to finally get this guidance fully resolved… Should I just tell folks back home, don’t even bother ramping up your seasonally operations because it’s just not coming? We can’t get that guidance from the CDC?” said Senator Murkowski.

Dr. Walensky reiterated that the CDC is constantly examining the guidance and working with key stakeholders in the cruise industry to understand how they are interpreting their guidance in order to get boats back in the water. She referenced an agreement on a 5 day turnaround for addressing incoming proposals. Walensky said that getting ships sailing again is the CDC’s goal for this season, aiming for mid-summer.