A cruise ship carrying several passengers infected with the novel coronavirus has docked at Port Everglades in Broward County after the cruise ship company reached an agreement with officials overseeing the port.
Thursday, multiple Broward County commissioners confirmed a plan had been finalized, subject to Commission approval.
The proposal was approved by a unified command group which has been set up to oversee the port. Among the members of that group are representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Broward Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and others.
The ship arrived Thursday afternoon.
At least four people have died on Holland America’s Zaandam since it left Argentina on March 7. Holland America is a subsidiary of Carnival.
At a Tuesday meeting regarding the ship’s fate, Coast Guard Captain Jo-ann Burdain — a member of the unified command — made it clear the ship would not dock without a plan to handle those passengers.
“We are looking for consent among the unified command,” Burdain told the commission.
“If there is not unanimous consent in the room then the plan is not approved. And if the plan is not approved, I will not permit the vessel to enter U.S. waters.”
That plan had not been submitted by Tuesday, meaning the commission did not have a chance to weigh in. But Thursday morning, Commissioner Michael Udine said unified command had signed off on a proposal.
“Unified Command conferenced last night and reached [conditional] approval of Carnival’s Plan, subject to approval between Broward and Carnival,” Udine wrote on Twitter.
“Look forward to seeing a SAFE plan for all to resolve.”
Added Commissioner Beam Furr, “I am glad to see conditional agreement has been reached. I believe the details will satisfy not only the most compassionate among us but also those rightly concerned with the safety of local residents. Thanks to everyone for working this out in a way in which we can be proud.”
In an email blast Thursday, Broward County Vice Mayor Steve Geller outlined the plan’s parameters, some of which were previewed at Tuesday’s meeting by Bill Burke, Carnival’s Chief Maritime Officer.
Passengers who are not ill will have their temperatures taken prior to leaving the ships. “Those with a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms will not be permitted to disembark,” Geller wrote.
Some of those non-ill passengers have been transferred to a sister ship, the Rotterdam, which docked alongside the Zaandam at Port Everglades.
According to county officials, 1,211 passengers are considered “well.”
Once a passenger leaves, they will be sent directly to Fort Lauderdale International Airport on buses and fly to their state or country of origin on chartered planes.
“Passengers will be either board the planes directly from the tarmac or will be placed in a special terminal with no other passengers in order to avoid any contact with Broward residents,” Geller added. “Passengers will be required to wear masks until they reach their homes.”
Florida residents who are not ill will be driven directly home courtesy of Holland America. The cruise company will foot the bill for all costs.
“They are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days once they get to their final destination,” Burke added Tuesday.
As for those who are sick, they will be treated on the ship itself, with some exceptions. “Holland America has reached an agreement with a Broward hospital to take up to 10 patients should such emergency care be necessary and beyond the ability to be treated on the ships,” Geller explained.
But Broward officials late Thursday noted 13 passengers require hospitalization, while another 26 will remain on the ship for treatment. It’s unclear whether some of those passengers being sent to hospitals will be transported outside Broward.
Only passengers, not cruise ship employees, will be allowed to disembark.
South Florida is the biggest hot spot of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state, which caused some concern regarding allowing the ship to dock.
“Clearly we’re going to be willing to accept any Floridians who are on board,” DeSantis said Wednesday.
“My understanding is that most of the passengers are foreign nationals. I think that they’re working on ways to deal with that.”
He continued, “My concern is simply that we have worked so hard to make sure we have adequate hospital space in the event of a COVID-19 surge that we wouldn’t want those valuable beds to be taken because of the cruise ship.”
Rep. Chip LaMarca, who has opposed the ship docking in Broward due to similar concerns, said he was “cautiously optimistic” after reviewing the proposed plan.
“We discussed in detail other military ports that would have presented more viable and more timely options throughout the Caribbean and the entire coast of Florida,” LaMarca said Thursday, referencing a discussion he had with a Coast Guard representative at the port.
“My greatest concern is that we have seen delay, delay, delay as these ships came through the Panama Canal and barreled through the Caribbean Sea towards Port Everglades, without a transparent and viable plan of action in place. County and Carnival leadership had 96 hours to come to an agreement, yet indecision and reluctance to listen to our maritime and military experts, who may have chosen an alternative that could have potentially kept our community safer, cost us valuable time for both the sick passengers and first responders.”