Governor opposes letting ship with 189 sick people dock in South Florida

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Holland America cruise ship carrying nearly 200 sick people is on steady pace toward South Florida, traveling past the Panama Canal faster than expected. Passengers are anxious to finish their voyage, which has turned into a nightmare with the deaths of four people.

But the Zaandam’s journey was dealt another blow Monday when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he doesn’t want the ship to dock in South Florida amid the spread of the new coronavirus, which already is overwhelming doctors with an influx of ill patients.

DeSantis said he has been in touch with the White House over the fate of the Zaandam, as well as a companion ship, the Rotterdam, where many passengers were moved. “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources,” DeSantis said on Fox News. “We view this as a big, big problem and we don’t want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now.”

Now that both the Zaandam and Rotterdam have crossed the Panama Canal, they could reach South Florida by late Wednesday or early Thursday, according to Ellen Kennedy, spokeswoman for Port Everglades. That is, if the Zaandam is permitted to dock, she said.

Broward County commissioners have the authority to turn away ships from Port Everglades, and they may reach a decision at a meeting Tuesday. They have the support of the governor if they were to reject the Zaandam.

At a news conference Monday, DeSantis said neither the Coast Guard nor the White House wants the ships to dock in South Florida. He said Florida was “just a convenient place. The problem is then that takes resources away from the folks in South Florida.”

He said although there were hospital beds available now, “I don’t want to be in a situation where those beds could have gone to Floridians.”

Researchers at the Harvard University Global Health Institute predict Florida’s hospitals will face bed shortages under various projected rates of spread, from six to 18 months. Even in the best-case scenario — 20% of Florida’s adults needing hospitalization over 18 months — hospitals would be close to 100% capacity.

The Zaandam, on a South American journey that left March 7 from Argentina, was first denied entry into Chile. Since then, four people have died, including an American from Redmond, Wash. A Holland American spokesman said the ship has a morgue.

Two people aboard tested positive for the new coronavirus, and the number of passengers and crew with flu-like symptoms ballooned to 138 last week. That number has now risen to 73 passengers and 116 crew members who’ve reported being sick.

The captain of the Zandaam still was being vague about the ship’s final destination Monday, according to Valerie Myntti, a passenger from Minnesota. The captain “is careful not to tell us a plan until it is a done deal,” she said. “He says our final destination is still being negotiated.”

Several elected officials in Broward have been alarmed at the idea of the Zaandam docking at Port Everglades.

Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen said one possibility would be letting the passengers off at Port Everglades, then taking them by bus to the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Miami-Dade County to be quarantined.

“We protect Broward County residents and let these people off the ship,” he said of his idea. “The feds put up the resources. … That protects Broward residents, it doesn’t put a strain on our resources and it lets the people come in.”

Port Everglades has a list of its requirements for the passengers if they were to disembark there, according to a list distributed to county commissioners. Passengers only would be allowed to take one piece of luggage with them, and the cruise line would sanitize all other luggage. Everyone will have to accurately disclose all illnesses and conditions, and the passengers and crew workers all will have their temperatures taken. The cruise line also needs to provide protective equipment for all responders, and arrange for ambulance transportation.

On Monday, in a letter circulated to guests of the Rotterdam from Capt. Bas Van Dreumel, he assured guests that the two ships will sail together because “we are in this together,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott weighed in on Monday, saying he wanted every person on board tested for the coronavirus and that “the ship must be held in port while everyone is tested, and all passengers must be quarantined for 14 days, even if they are not currently showing symptoms.”

But authorities said Holland America is planning on chartering flights for its passengers once they arrive at Port Everglades, and only sick people could be required to stay on the ship, and treated.

The captain wrote in his letter that having guests divided on the ships will help balance the workload for the crews.

There are 797 passengers and 645 crew members on the Rotterdam. On Zaandam there are 446 passengers and 602 crew members, according to Holland America.

Cliff Kolber, of Miramar, Fla., and his wife, Doris, who don’t have any virus symptoms, were moved to the Rotterdam on Sunday, where guests are confined to their rooms and getting meals delivered.

He said the captain on Sunday told passengers they should arrive in Fort Lauderdale by Thursday morning, and the cruise line will assist getting flights home for the passengers, but Monday’s update didn’t include a specific location.

Kolber was angry the governor wasn’t supportive of their return.

“We are citizens of the U.S.,” he said Monday. “How can we be denied entry to our own country?”


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