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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on “America’s Newsroom” on Thursday that “there is no easy solution” to solving the issue surrounding the stranded passengers aboard two Holland America cruise ships, including more than 200 who are sick.
“I think we have a plan,” DeSantis said. “The county, Broward County, where the port is, is working with the stakeholders, the cruise lines as well as the Coast Guard to be able to bring both of those ships in, but do it in a way that’s going to be safe for the people of Florida.
“There are a number of Floridians on the Zaandam so obviously we want to welcome them back and get them to be safe,” he continued.
The two Holland America Line cruise ships, the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, are currently anchored off the Florida coast, awaiting final clearance to disembark after reaching a conditional arrangement with local authorities.
The ships arrived early on Thursday morning, with 233 passengers and crew who, at some point since March 22, were said to have been exhibiting “influenza-like illness symptoms,” according to Holland America. At least eight of the people onboard had tested positive for COVID-19; four “older” guests were also confirmed to have died on the Zaandam last week. More than 50 Floridians are on the ships.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine had previously opposed letting the ships dock at a port in Fort Lauderdale, with DeSantis calling the move “a mistake” earlier this week. He also expressed concern that Florida’s health care system would not be able to handle the sick passengers and crew.
President Trump had reportedly urged DeSantis to welcome the ships during a call with the governor.
“They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said Tuesday, during a White House briefing. “I’m going to do what’s right, not only for us but for humanity.”
On Thursday DeSantis said, “I think there has been a little confusion about some of this, there are probably another two dozen ships that are out there and some of them want to come to Florida. None of them have American citizens. They’re all foreign crude and we’ve been very concerned about that, the Coast Guard has been concerned about it.”
He said there is a safe plan concerning the Holland America Line cruise ships, “but some of these other ships out there will be a big, big problem because it really has no connection to Florida or to the American people.”
At a press conference the day before DeSantis said, “I obviously am not in control of the port that is run by the counties, in this case, Broward County, and I know they’re in consultation with the cruise ships.”
“Clearly, we’re going to be willing to accept any Floridians that are on board. My understanding is that most of the passengers are foreign nationals. I think that they’re working on ways to deal with that.”
On Thursday when host Sandra Smith asked DeSantis what Florida is going to be doing with the critically ill passengers, he said, “We worked with the local hospitals and I know we have one hospital that’s able to take some of the critically ill. They have the capacity to do that and I think that that can be done and I think that the numbers are such that it’s not necessarily going to overwhelm.
“One of the main issues with this pandemic is people are going to get infected, it’s a respiratory disease, it’s just the way it happens, it spreads, but we want that spread to happen slower so that the system doesn’t get overwhelmed, the medical system,” he continued. “We worked very hard in Florida.”
DeSantis went on to say that Florida now has more availability of beds because there has been a lot of “diligence.”
“The hospitals are working hard. We’ve done executive orders to do that. We’ve prepared for this surge and we want to make sure that the beds are available for the Floridians who need it,” he said. “On the Zaandam, those folks will get into a hospital in South Florida as soon as this agreement is reached. It is the humanitarian thing to do.”
After DeSantis’ appearance on “America’s Newsroom,” Broward County Commissioner Udine provided an update on the Zaandam on Thursday saying, “By holding firm, the cruise company has come up with a safe plan agreed to by the experts at Unified command. Carnival will be providing legal assurance for the transport of many out of the area and many other safeguards. Many crew and other will stay on ship. Critically ill people will be hospitalized. All of this will be at the expense of Carnival.”
He added that the Broward County sheriff and the Coast Gard “are putting operation plans in place.”
DeSantis said on Thursday that “we obviously would be very concerned with a ship where this illness is circulating to just basically release people into the general public. I mean that would be totally contrary to just everything else we’re trying to do for public health not only in Florida but throughout the country right now.”
He added, “Obviously as governor I have an interest in getting Floridians back to Florida safely. I also have an interest in making sure that if a Floridian has been exposed to this virus that they’re not in a position to expose others.”
He said the plan to get the passengers off the ships will “be done carefully.”
“At the end of the day these cruise ships are problems when you talk about a respiratory contagious virus,” he said. “I know that they stopped sailing. You still have some of the ones that had taken off in March and that’s just the situation we find ourselves in.”
In Florida, more than 8,010 COVID-19 cases have been reported with 128 deaths, according to Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.