Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to accept state residents off Holland America cruise ships

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday his state was willing to accept Floridians on board Holland America cruise ships seeking to disembark in Florida after more than 200guests and crew reported flu-like symptoms, including ninepassengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Florida officials, DeSantis said, are "working on a solution" to disembark other passengers, including foreign nationals, in a way that does not drain resources in South Florida, the state’s epicenter of COVID-19 cases.

"My concern is that we have worked so hard to make sure we have adequate hospital space in the event of a COVID-19 surge, we wouldn't want those valuable beds to be taken because of the cruise ship(s)," DeSantis said.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he was going to speak with DeSantis about whether to allow the MS Zaandam to dock.

“They're dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I'm going to do what's right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”

There are 24 guests from Florida on the MS Zaandam and 25 guests from Florida on the MS Rotterdam. On Friday, asymptomatic passengers from the Zaandam were transferred to the Rotterdam, which is also seeking to dock in Florida. The ships, currently carrying a total of 1,200 passengers including 304 Americans, are set to arrive in Fort Lauderdale early Thursday.

Both ships will wait outside of U.S. waters until they have clearance to dock, Holland America said in a statement issued by spokesperson Sally Andrews.

Holland America estimated than fewer than 10 people need critical care onshore but that they have been pre-approved to enter a local medical facility.

"This small number is the only group that will require any support from medical resources in Broward County and is necessary to prevent further harm to their health," the cruise line said in response to DeSantis' concerns.

It continued, "The approximately 45 guests who still have mild illness and are unfit to travel at this time will continue to isolate on board until recovered. Disembarkation would be at a later date to be determined and only after they have recovered and are in alignment with CDC guidelines for being fit to travel."

Those guests, Holland America noted, "would transfer straight from the ship to flights for onward travel home, the majority on charter flights. Out of an abundance of caution, these guests will be transported in coaches that will be sanitized, with limited person-to-person contact and while wearing masks," the cruise line said. "These provisions well exceed what the CDC have advised is necessary for their travel.."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has directed cruise ships to prepare to treat any sick passengers and crew on board while being sequestered “indefinitely” offshore during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new rules outlined in a memo are required for ships in the district that covers Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico. They also come with a stiff warning: Any foreign-flagged vessels “that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas” should try first to medically evacuate the very sick to those countries instead.

The rules, which apply to vessels carrying more than 50 people, were issued in a Sunday safety bulletin signed by Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones, head of the seventh district. All ships destined for U.S. ports were already required to provide daily updates on their coronavirus caseload or face civil penalties or criminal prosecution.

Carnival Corp. is the world's largest cruise line and is the parent company of Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises and Holland America. Approximately 6,000 Carnival Corp. passengers are still aboard the company's cruise ships as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe.

These passengers are all expected to disembark by the end of April, according to an SEC filing from the company on Tuesday. Carnival will provide some of its crew food and housing, as they are unable to return home.

Princess has been at the center of the issue of coronavirus-infected cruise ships, with the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess both experiencing highly publicized outbreaks.

For Princess, problems continue: A "higher-than-normal number" of passengers on another Princess ship, the Coral Princess, have reported flu-like symptoms, which are similar to those of COVID-19, the line said in a Tuesday statement shared by spokesperson Negin Kamali. Passengers have been asked to self-isolate until the ship docks. The plan is for that ship to also head to Fort Lauderdale to disembark, the cruise line said – if Florida officials allow it.

Still cruising: 6,000 Carnival passengers are at sea amid coronavirus pandemic

Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival, has two ships, the Costa Magica and Costa Favolosa, that are anchored near the port of Miami and are waiting for medical evacuation plans to be finalized.

The Costa Luminosa and Ruby Princess also have documented coronavirus cases, according to the filing.

The British-flagged and U.S.-operated Diamond Princess had carried an infected passenger part way before returning to its home port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb. 3. Of the 3,711 passengers and crew members on board, 705 were infected on the ship, triggering international criticism of the quarantine and Japan’s disease-control capability.

More than 3,500 people on board the Grand Princess for a Hawaii voyage were potentially exposed to COVID-19. Of the 1,103 passengers from the Grand Princess that elected to be tested, 103 tested positive, 699 tested negative. Two passengers have died.

In its filing, the company also warned of financial struggles ahead even after the outbreak subsides.

Princess Cruises had on board health problems long before back-to-back outbreaks of the new coronavirus on the Diamond and Grand Princess ships unmoored the entire cruise industry.

Their passengers fell sick extraordinarily often. Nearly 5,000 people on board Princess ships in the past decade have suffered from bouts of vomiting, diarrhea – or both – in numbers widespread enough that government health officials issued alerts on 26 outbreaks.

The next-closest cruise line, Celebrity, reported one-third fewer breakouts during the same years.

Contributing: Letitia Stein, Mike Stucka and Cara Kelly, USA TODAY; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Fla. governor taking residents from Holland America ships