FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Two cruise ships carrying guests and crew members with flu-like symptoms have docked at Port Everglades, and some of those on board who are sick have been transported to two South Florida hospitals.
As of Thursday, at least nine passengers on board the Zaandam and Rotterdam cruise ships have tested positive for COVID-19, including four people who have died and one crew member. All passengers have been in isolation since March 22.
“We’re able to help the people on board in a humanitarian way to ensure that they’ll be able to go home with their families and help those who are ill get treatment,” Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said.
Ten sick patients were transported to Broward Health Medical Center, which is the official medical provider for the Holland America cruise line, and four others were transported to Larkin Community Hospital in Hialeah.
Officials said the 10 passengers requiring hospitalization are on board the Zaandam, and three passengers who need to be hospitalized are on board the Rotterdam. One crew member also requires hospitalization, officials said.
According to CNN, Holland America officials said these patients were in need of immediate critical care.
Several of the patients have since been declared to be in fair condition.
7News cameras captured the first patients arriving at Broward Health Medical Center via private ambulance, Thursday afternoon. Some of the patients who were taken out of the ambulances were hooked up to ventilators to help them breathe.
There are also 26 passengers on board both ships who are experiencing moderate flu-like symptoms, but they will stay on the ship in quarantine along with 50 crew members from both ships who are also experiencing symptoms.
“We have taken every precaution necessary to protect the well-being and health of the people of Broward County while at the same time being humanitarians,” Holness said. “I understand the concerns of those who sent emails, for and against, and that is why we took the extra measure to put a plan in place that protects Broward County residents from further spread of this disease.”
7News cameras captured a white tent set up outside the hospital, but officials have not confirmed if it has been established to treat the sick cruise ship passengers. 7Skyforce HD captured the Zaandam and Rotterdam arriving at the port, Thursday afternoon.
When Thomas Laurent, a passenger, heard the captain say the ship was allowed to dock, he said, “‘Woo-hoo!’ So funny and so happy, you know, it’s gonna end.”
For days, the ships had been turned away from several ports. After the illness swept through the Zaandam, passengers had to stay in their rooms and were tended to by masked crew members.
The Zaandam arrived first, and 7News cameras captured crew members wearing masks and passengers waving from the ship’s balconies. Not long after, the Rotterdam arrived at the port, which brings a dayslong ordeal for those on board closer to an end.
Charles Borg, a passenger, said, “We will be medically interviewed and checked on the shore side. We’re just waiting for the rest of the protocols to play itself out.”
There are a total of 1,250 passengers on board both ships, with 442 on board the Zaandam and 808 on board the Rotterdam. Officials said 1,211 passengers will be allowed to disembark from both ships.
Most of the passengers are elderly.
“Our top consideration was the help of our community as well as those on board,” Holness said. “It is a solution that provides for the well-being of the people of Broward County and further prevents the spread of coronavirus, COVID-19.”
According to CNN, there are 52 Floridians on board the ships altogether, and nine of the passengers reside in South Florida.
Officials have confirmed that five charter flights have been organized for the passengers who are not sick and allowed to disembark. All of the flights are scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday and early Saturday morning, officials said.
According to several passengers, they have been having trouble contacting their families via WhatsApp and Facebook. Most of them are couples and some are veterans who have saved up for years to go on cruises such as this.
One couple said they were excited about going to South America, but like many passengers they are caught up in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic because they had no idea about the extent of the pandemic when they boarded the ship since they did not receive any advisories from the state department.
The healthy passengers who didn’t have any windows or balconies were the first to be removed from the Zaandam and onto the sister ship, the Rotterdam.
Suzanne Termaat, whose father is on board the Rotterdam, said she’s hopeful that the ship docks in Port Everglades because her father, who was celebrating his 80th birthday on the Zandaam with his wife and friends, had a difficult couple of weeks being cooped up in the stateroom.
Termaat hopes that they’ll be able to catch a flight back to San Francisco and stay home for the duration of the pandemic.
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