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Cruise Ships With Possible COVID-19 Cases Have No Places To Dock

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There is more drama at sea. A cruise ship with four dead and nearly 200 who are sick, possibly with COVID-19, hopes to dock this week in South Florida. The cruise ship has been denied permission to disembark passengers by several countries. And this week, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, said he did not believe the ship should be allowed to dock in his state either.

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RON DESANTIS: The problem is is then that takes resources away from the folks in South Florida. And, yes, we do have available beds, but I don't want to be a situation where those beds could have gone to Floridians.

CHANG: But in Florida's Broward County, local officials are working with Carnival Cruise Lines, the Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a plan to allow the ship to dock in Fort Lauderdale. NPR's Greg Allen has been following this story and joins us now from Miami.

Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it's kind of hard to believe that after weeks and weeks of dealing with this pandemic, there are still cruise ships with passengers out there. How long has this one been at sea?

ALLEN: Well, this one, the Zaandam, has been on a South American cruise that left on March 7. They say that was, you know, Holland America, which has the line, says that was when the pandemic was just in its earliest beginnings, and people hadn't really thought about staying home. But on March 16, when it was off the coast of Chile, that country closed its borders and wouldn't allow guests to disembark. Then a bunch of other countries also refused to allow them to disembark. Passengers and crews started showing symptoms. By last week, you had dozens sick, some very sick. The company reported that four people on board died. They sent another ship there to bring in medical personnel and supplies, and the two ships were given permission to go through the Panama Canal, and they did that earlier this week. And now they're making for Fort Lauderdale, which the home port for the Zaandam.

CHANG: Wow, just adrift. And what are conditions like on the ship right now?

ALLEN: Well, you know, there's - there were about nearly 120 crew members who were sick and at least 76 passengers. Carnival says at least 60 of them, people who were sick, have totally recovered. But still that leaves very many sick passengers aboard. The sickest have been the elderly. And this cruise line that does specialize in, you know, to - cater to elderly passengers. Carnival Cruise Line Vice President Bill Burke was speaking to the Broward County Commission today. He said the county has asked Mexico for permission to medevac two sick passengers to Mexico. He said Mexico hasn't approved the request yet.

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BILL BURKE: We are coming to the place of last resort. Now, I hope that those two people that we would like to medevac today to Mexico will survive the couple-day transit.

CHANG: This sounds absolutely dire. OK. So it seems like officials in Fort Lauderdale might agree to let the ship dock and for healthy passengers to head home, right? But what about people who are sick onboard? What happens to those people?

ALLEN: Right. The county commission is working to get the right assurances from the company that everything would go as according to plan. Carnival says it has adequate medical resources aboard the Zaandam to care for those who are sick. There's four doctors and five nurses onboard now. They'll have more when it gets to port. They've six ventilators, they say, plus extra oxygen and other medical supplies. Going forward, they think most of the people they'll be treating will be crew members because on this and other ships the crews are the ones who are most exposed to the virus because they live in close quarters, and they're constantly exposed to the passengers.

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, what about other cruise ships that are stuck near Florida? Do we have any sense of how many there are and in what condition their crew and passengers are in?

ALLEN: Right. There are still some other ships with passengers out there - hard to say how many. There is another cruise ship with sick passengers aboard due to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Friday. That should be the last with passengers. But as you say, there's all these other ships out there, and many of them have sick crew, and many of them are bringing their sick crew members to South Florida hospitals.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami.

Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.