Thirty-six people tested positive for COVID-19 after disembarking from the Costa Luminosa cruise ship Thursday in France, according to Reuters. The cruise company confirmed that three are U.S. citizens.
Prior to docking in Marseille, France, Thursday, the ship had offloaded six sick passengers in three different countries — three of whom later tested positive for the disease — since late February, when it left Fort Lauderdale.
The cruise company, Costa Cruises, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corporation, decided to sail to Europe after evacuating an Italian couple from the ship in Puerto Rico on March 8 and getting turned away from its next stop, Antigua. The company waited seven days to isolate passengers and give crew members protective gear despite a growing number of sick people on board.
On Thursday, French health authorities allowed 639 of the ship’s 1,427 passengers to disembark and tested 75 of them for COVID-19, Reuters reported. Of those, 36 tested positive.
More than 300 U.S. and Canadian citizens from the ship flew into Atlanta, Georgia, Friday morning, Carnival Corp. said in a statement. Three American passengers — two from Florida and one from Massachusetts — tested positive for COVID-19; none showed symptoms, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Thirteen more passengers from the flight who are showing symptoms are awaiting testing, the news company reported.
Carnival Corp. did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether any crew members have been tested.
Four South Florida passengers told the Herald Friday morning that they were heading home on commercial flights without being tested for COVID-19 — despite having spent 24 hours cooped up on a bus and chartered plane with passengers who have tested positive. The plane was packed with no separation between those who had been tested and those who hadn’t.
Kelly Edge, 60, from Miami, described the overnight flight to Atlanta as a “horrific nightmare.”
Originally scheduled to leave at 10:00 p.m. Thursday, passengers said the plane didn’t take off until around 2:00 a.m. Friday. They hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.
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Four hours into the flight, elderly and sick passengers began to deteriorate, said Edge.
“People started withering,” she said. “We had people who had diabetes... older people and they were literally passing out. At one time there were three passed out.”
Edge and other passengers tried to care for the sick without becoming ill themselves. When they touched down in the U.S. Friday morning, Edge clapped and cried. But her joy didn’t last. It took another two and a half hours to get off the plane, she said.
Edge expected to be tested for the new coronavirus, especially after learning that three of the passengers on the flight tested positive. But she said the screening was minimal; an emergency medical technician took her temperature and asked her to fill out a form indicating if she had developed a cough or runny nose in the last day.
“I was floored,” she said. “We had 300 people packed in a coffin, blowing their nose. I was prepared to go to a military base and ride it out, whatever needs to be done. I don’t know that I’m not carrying the virus for Godsakes.”
Edge and her husband Woody, 65, plan to stay the night in Atlanta and fly back to Miami Saturday, where they will remain in their condo near the Miami River for 14 days and monitor their temperatures.
Emilio Hernandez, 51, and his wife Barbara, 46, of Miami said the health screening consisted of a temperature check and three questions about how they were feeling. They too said they expected to be tested for the disease.
“They said, ‘Are you ok? Good’,” said Emilio. “I want to go get tested right now. I know that I’ve been so exposed. I don’t want to give it to anyone else.”
The Hernandezes wrote a letter to the ship’s captain on March 15 begging to be let off in Spain’s Canary Islands after three sick passengers and their companions were offloaded there. The ship left for France that night with the couple on board.
They raced to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale around 2 p.m. Friday. They live on a boat in Coconut Grove and plan to stay there for the recommended 14 days.
Hundreds of passengers and crew members remain on board the ship, which left Marseilles Friday afternoon for Italy.
Ship logs obtained by the Miami Herald show that 33 passengers were classified as “sick” before the ship docked in France, and 24 crew members were isolated because they had been exposed. On Thursday, Costa Cruises said in a statement that only five passengers and two crew members had flu-like symptoms.