Regal Princess docks at Port Everglades after coronavirus virus test of 2 staff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Regal Princess cruise ship finally pulled into a Florida port and passengers began disembarking after two crew members tested negative for coronavirus.

The Regal Princess was originally to have docked Sunday morning in Port Everglades but instead spent most of the day sailing up and down the coast. The Coast Guard delivered testing kits to the Regal Princess and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no-sail order” for the ship.

The crew members in question had transferred more than two weeks ago from the Grand Princess cruise ship in California where nearly two dozen on board have tested positive for the virus, including 19 crew members, according to Princess Cruises. The cruise line said in a statement earlier Sunday that the crew members of the Regal Princess shouldn’t pose a risk to anyone on board because they did not exhibit respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and were well beyond the advised 14-day virus incubation period.

A Port of Everglades spokeswoman, Ellen Kennedy, said later Sunday that the CDC had cleared the ship to enter port. She told The Associated Press by email that the ship would be docking at a cruise terminal in the port about 10 p.m. Sunday.

A Princess Cruises statement issued early Monday said the CDC issued the clearance after the test results came back negative.

After the ship docked, passengers stood on their balconies as they waited to disembark, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported from scene. The first passengers were let off about an hour after the ship pulled into port.

“The crew was wonderful,” Elizabeth Goetsch, of Wisconsin, told the Fort Lauderdale paper. “I wasn’t really worried about the health issues because they encouraged us and they calmed us.”

Penny Sitz, of Minnesota, was on her first cruise and echoed the praise for the “fantastic” staff members, saying they were constantly cleaning and “making us wash our hands all the time.”

Guests in need of hotel rooms would be allowed to reboard the ship for the night, the statement said, and compensation for “unexpected expenses” would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The stall came a day after the governor’s office confirmed that two people who tested positive for the new coronavirus have died in the state, the first deaths on the East Coast attributed to the outbreak in the U.S.

Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, confirmed the deaths on Twitter, writing the individuals were in their 70s and had traveled overseas.

DeSantis met with Vice President Mike Pence, Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and heads of the cruise line industry on Saturday to devise better ways for cruise lines to deal with the outbreak. Cruise line heads agreed to enhance entry and exit screenings and establish shipboard testing for the virus, along with new quarantine standards established by the CDC.

The industry was asked to devise and fund a new plan on how to transport any cruise passengers who contract the disease. Some of the new protocol was expected to start taking effect early this week.

The cruise lines “need to take action to make sure they are keeping their passengers safe and do not end up putting undo burden on federal resources,” DeSantis said.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory against travel on cruise ships, particularly for travelers with underlying health conditions. The statement said the CDC noted an “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”

It is unclear how many people are on board the Regal Princess, but the cruise line’s website said it has a capacity of 3,560 guests.

The vessel’s next cruise scheduled to leave Port Everglades for a seven-day Caribbean trip Sunday was also canceled. The cruise line said guests would receive a full refund and offered $300 reimbursement for one night’s hotel costs.

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