Health officials say they will work to contact cruise ship passengers who may have been in contact with any of the four individuals connected to Port Everglades who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says his agency will work with the Florida Department of Health to ensure those passengers are notified.
Redfield testified before Congress Thursday on his agency’s handling of the newly designated pandemic.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, who represents parts of Broward County including Port Everglades, questioned Redfield. She said officials have not confirmed that passengers who had offloaded at the port in recent days had been notified of potential contact.
“Days and days have gone by with no notification, no precautions that those passengers should have taken,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“They could be out there spreading coronavirus right now. And to this day the cruise lines still have not been notified and urged by any public health entity to notify their passengers to make sure that they can figure out whether they’ve been exposed.”
She then pressed Redfield directly on federal efforts to ensure those who had potentially been exposed were taking precautionary efforts.
“What are the CDC guidelines for notifying people who have potentially been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case?” Wasserman Schultz asked.
“And shouldn’t passengers on the relevant ships worked by the Port Everglades employees who have coronavirus been notified in a timely manner so they can take precautionary measures? They still haven’t been notified.”
“CDC last night spoke with the Princess Cruise staff about this situation,” Redfield responded.
“They agreed to send a notice to all passengers on the ship where the greeters have worked. We’re obviously in contact today with the Florida Health Department. We would concur that individuals that have been exposed, particularly in a cruise setting, should be notified.”
Wasserman Schultz argued, however, that passengers of other cruise ships — aside from the Princess Cruise line — may have been exposed.
“This is the second-largest cruise port in the world and there is more than just Princes Cruise lines that these employees worked.”
That prompted Redfield to promise he would coordinate with the Florida Department of Health to ensure those notifications reach all who need them.
“We will follow up to see … that any ship that had passengers that these individuals could’ve exposed will be notified,” Redfield said.
The death rate for those who test positive for the virus has vacillated between 2% and 3.5%. However, those calculations do not include individuals who may have contracted the virus but are asymptomatic and thus survive without incident. Including those individuals would lower the death rate, but it’s unclear how many such individuals there are worldwide.
Most who do show symptoms develop a fever or cough and may have trouble breathing, though they do recover. However, older individuals and those with underlying health risks are susceptible to developing more severe symptoms.
Overall, 30 people have now been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Florida. Three of those cases are nonresidents.
Another five Floridians have been returned to the U.S. after testing positive overseas.
The virus has spread on several cruise ships, prompting the Florida cruise industry to reassess operational plans in light of the outbreak.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended municipalities and private groups cancel all events larger than 1,000 people. DeSantis also said he’s suspending official travel for all state employees for at least 30 days.