FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want the people on a cruise ship where four people died and others are sick to be treated in Florida, saying the state does not have the capacity to treat outsiders as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.
DeSantis said later Monday he misspoke when he said he expects South Florida's four counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe — would be on near-lockdown until mid-May. He said he meant mid-April.
DeSantis said it would be "a mistake" to bring the passengers from Holland America's Zandaam onshore for treatment because South Florida already has a high number of new coronavirus infections and that rate is growing. He said the area's hospital beds need to be saved for residents and not “foreign nationals.”
"We would like to have medical personnel dispatched to the ship," DeSantis said as he visited a test site at the Miami Dolphins stadium in Miami Gardens. He wants the cruise line to arrange that.
The Zandaam left Argentina on March 7 and has not been allowed to dock for more than two weeks. A sister ship, the Rotterdam, took on passengers who didn't appear to be infected. They were allowed through the Panama Canal on Sunday night and are about three days from Florida.
The Zaandam had four doctors and four nurses to treat 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members. About 130 onboard have symptoms, officials said. It is unknown how many passengers and crew have been placed on the Rotterdam. Holland America said the Zaandam currently has 138 U.S. citizens on board, while another 166 U.S. citizens were transferred to the Rotterdam.
DeSantis he has been in contact with the Coast Guard and the White House about diverting the ship. Broward County officials will meet Tuesday to decide whether to let the ship dock at its Port Everglades cruise ship terminal, where workers who greet passengers were among Florida's first confirmed coronavirus cases.
Orlando technical writer Laura Gabaroni, 48, and her husband were transferred from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam on Saturday. In a phone interview Monday with The Associated Press, Gabaroni said she wrote a letter to DeSantis pleading that the two ships be allowed to dock in Florida.
“Florida continues to receive flights from New York and it allowed spring break gatherings to go on as planned. Why turn their backs on us?" said Gabaroni, who works for a defense contractor. “We hope our elected officials will do the right thing: let the Americans disembark and safely quarantine.”
Port Everglades officials said Holland American must submit a plan before arrival that addresses a long list of requirements for entry into the port.
“Clearly what must be done is that we save the people of Florida,” Broward Mayor Dale Holness said Monday.
The number of confirmed cases in Florida neared 5,500 on Monday with 70 deaths. About 60% of the diagnosed cases are in the four South Florida counties. DeSantis said he would issue an executive order Monday unifying the lockdown order between the counties. They already have ordered the closures of non-essential retail businesses, beaches and parks.
DeSantis believes the disease was likely circulating in the area when Miami hosted tens of thousands of guests for the Super Bowl in early February, but any illnesses were thought to be the flu at that point.
Despite criticism from Democrats and others, DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide lockdown like many other states have imposed, saying it wouldn't be fair to counties with few or no reported cases. Most of those are small, rural counties along the state's northern border. Counties in the Tampa Bay area and central Florida have issued their own lockdown orders.
In Tampa, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister issued an arrest warrant Monday for Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne for defying the county's order by holding services that attracted hundreds on Sunday. The pastor turned himself in to authorities later Monday.
The church has said it sanitized the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business. He also attacked the media for “religious bigotry and hate.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death. The vast majority of people recover, but a surge of cases needing hospital support could overwhelm the health care system's capacity.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the passenger's name is “Gabaroni,” not “Gabroni.”