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Thirteen sick crew with COVID-19 symptoms evacuated from cruise ships to Miami hospitals

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 3/27/2020 By Taylor Dolven, The Miami Herald

Slideshow by Photo Services

Thirteen crew members in need of life-critical care from two cruise ships were evacuated to local hospitals in Miami Thursday with COVID-19 symptoms.

The ships — Costa Magica and Costa Favolosa — lingered three miles offshore as lifeboats transported sick people to the U.S. Coast Guard station adjacent to PortMiami. Decked in hazmat suits, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers helped the people off of lifeboats and into ambulances.

Seven Favolosa crew members and six Magica crew members planned to be evacuated Thursday, according to a source close to the situation. Spokesperson for the Miami-Dade county seaport Andria Muniz-Amador said in a statement that the evacuated crew members have respiratory symptoms consistent with pneumonia and bronchitis.

Each ship has around 1,000 crew members left on board. Thirty people between the two ships had flu-like symptoms on Wednesday, according to Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival Corporation. Some still on board have lost their sense of smell, a symptom of new coronavirus infection.

In a recording of an announcement made on board the Costa Favolosa Thursday evening obtained by the Miami Herald, the captain said the company is working to organize flights home for the crew members still on board.

“We will remain outside of Miami until Saturday when Costa Cruises is organizing flights to Europe and Asia to repatriate the majority of crew members,” the recording said.

A crew member on board the Favolosa who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation said he lost his sense of smell about a week ago, as have seven coworkers. They worry this could be a symptom of the virus, as evidence suggests. He is not showing any other symptoms and worries he won’t be tested before flying home.

Jackson Health System, the University of Miami Health System and Baptist Health will care for the sick people evacuated Thursday, said Matt Pinzur, a spokesperson for Jackson Health System.

“While we are all committed to preserving resources for our own residents, an international community like Miami would never turn our backs on people aboard ships at our shores,” Pinzur said in a statement. “A team from Jackson’s emergency department worked with the U.S. Coast Guard and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue to receive these symptomatic patients at the Coast Guard station, and they will be hospitalized at our three systems until they can safely return home.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that the county could not turn away the sick people, but “will not be accepting additional burdens on our health delivery system.”

“I want to stress, again, that these ships are out at sea and will not be docking at PortMiami,” he said via video address. “We are working with the federal government to resolve this fluid situation so that remaining healthy crew members on those ships are able to get on charter flights and return to their home countries.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was working with local, state and federal officials to ensure the health and safety of the crew on board. The Florida Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment about what will happen to the people who remain on board.

In mid-March, all passengers and a few crew disembarked from the ships in the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe after the cruise industry halted operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Costa said eight people on the ships tested positive for COVID-19, including four crew members.

The Ministry of Health for Trinidad and Tobago said Thursday that 47 passengers from the Costa Favolosa cruise ship tested positive after returning home from Guadeloupe.

Authorities in Guadeloupe and Martinique would not allow the ships to remain there. Instead, the ships sailed in circles near Antilla, Cuba, Wednesday, hoping to dock there and repatriate the crew members. The company did not respond to a request for comment about why that plan did not materialize. All other Caribbean ports have turned the ships away.


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