By: Sharon Aron Baron
Two cruise ships were permitted to dock at Port Everglades late Thursday afternoon after having been at sea for nearly a month.
As the eyes of the world have been fixed on South Florida recently, elected officials, government administrators, healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and a myriad of other organizations in Broward County have been engaged in an unprecedented fight against COVID-19 – a fight that is requiring tough choices and difficult decisions.
For most of the day Thursday, two Holland America Line cruise ships carrying approximately 1,250 passengers and 1,200 crew lay off the coast of South Florida, awaiting clearance to dock at Broward County’s Port Everglades.
Because some of the passengers have tested positive for COVID-19, and four passengers passed away, the ships have been denied entry at other ports along their route to the U.S.
“Residents have been understandably concerned about potential impacts in our community,” said Broward County Mayor Dale V.C. Holness. “This is a humanitarian situation, and the County Commission’s top priority is protecting our 1.9 million residents while providing a contained disembarkation option for people on board who need to get safely home.”
South Florida is the epicenter of Florida’s COVID-19 crisis, with more positive cases and deaths from the coronavirus than the rest of Florida combined.
County Commissioner Michael Udine, who represents Parkland, said the very ill passengers on board would be hospitalized. In essence, all of this will be at the expense of Holland America Line’s parent company, Carnival Corporation.
Carnival submitted a revised plan that first had to meet the stringent requirements of Broward’s Unified Command, which consists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Florida Health Department in Broward County, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Broward Sheriff’s Office Departments of Law Enforcement and Fire Rescue, Port Everglades Pilots Association, Broward County’s Port Everglades Department and Broward County Administration.
Highlights of the final, approved plan include:
Nearly all of the guests on board are deemed well and fit for travel per guidelines from CDC and will transfer from the ship, wearing masks, in sanitized, chartered coaches with limited person-to-person contact.
On Friday and Saturday, they will be taken in groups directly to the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, to board charter flights home. They have been self-isolated on board the ship since March 22 and will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival.
Approximately two dozen guests on board have a mild illness, and the plans calls for these guests to continue to isolate on board until they are recovered. Disembarkation for these individuals will not occur until they meet CDC guidelines for being fit to travel.
Approximately 15 individuals need immediate critical care shoreside, and a local health system partner here in Broward has agreed to accept them for treatment, with a transfer procedure that protects the patient, the health care workers, and the community.
Among the passengers are 311 American citizens, including Floridians. Passengers who are residents of Florida will be provided private transportation to their homes.
“The passengers that are sick want medical attention, as any of us would,” said Mayor Holness. “The ones that are well simply want to go home. They have families and lives they want desperately to return to. We can safely help them, and we should.”
“Broward County has always a passionate and caring community, and we will continue to be so while safeguarding the needs and well-being of our residents,” said County Administrator Bertha Henry.