Dozens reported sick as Costa cruise ship nears France with 233 Americans on board

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By Taylor Dolven Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Dozens of crew members and passengers aboard the Costa Luminosa cruise ship are recorded as sick as the ship nears France in hopes of docking there Thursday, according to ship logs obtained by the Miami Herald.

The cruise ship, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corporation, has left three people diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in two countries — Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands — since it departed Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 24. The cruise was originally supposed to end in Venice, Italy, on March 25 but is now scheduled to dock in Marseilles, France, on Thursday after bypassing several ports.

Passengers and crew members on board say they are nervous about what will happen when they arrive in France. President Emanuel Macron announced a 15-day lockdown of the country on Tuesday prohibiting all nonessential outings.

At least 24 crew members on board the ship are classified as sick and are isolated, according to ship logs obtained by the Herald, and at least 50 passengers are classified as sick, or are roommates of passengers who are classified as sick.

There are currently 1,427 passengers on board; of those, 233 are U.S. citizens. A spokesperson for Costa Cruises did not respond to a request for information about how many crew members are on board. The ship can hold 1,050 crew members.

In response to a query about the ship logs, a spokesperson for Costa Cruises responded with a statement that said the company is working with French authorities and passengers and crew members are getting their temperatures checked every day. “Our priority is to bring our guests safely home and our teams are focused on this goal in a situation which is evolving very rapidly.” The statement did not refer to the ship logs.

“At the moment the health situation on board is under control, with no need for medical disembarkations,” the spokesperson said via email. “The health and safety of our guests and crew members are our number one priority.” Costa Cruises has halted operations worldwide until April 3, but still needs to disembark passengers from several ships.

The ship logs, sent to the Herald by a crew member concerned about the safety of his colleagues, are meant to show the ship’s staff which cabins they should avoid entering when delivering food, the crew member said. The logs don’t specify which symptoms anyone on board is showing, though passengers on board say some have developed coughs and sniffles.

The logs show that more crew members and passengers have fallen ill over the course of the cruise. One crew member said workers were not provided masks until Sunday. Even after offloading sick passengers in several countries, the remaining passengers were allowed to roam the ship and crowd into bars and restaurants for days.

“The situation every day is going more bad,” one crew member said. “They never was ready with personal protection for avoid the virus.”

The first five crew members to fall ill, according to the logs, were isolated on March 8, the same day that two passengers were evacuated from the ship in Puerto Rico. Both later tested positive for COVID-19. Two workers had contact with sick passengers, the logs show, two were their roommates, and another was in charge of delivering the food to isolated cabins. All are from the Philippines.

On Sunday, March 15, a waiter from Guatemala was isolated after having contact with a sick passenger and an assistant bartender from Indonesia was recorded sick: “Isolation request by hospital,” the logs say.

That same day, three passengers with respiratory problems and their companions were offloaded in Spain’s Canary Islands and transferred to local hospitals. COVID-19 test results are not yet available for the three passengers.

On Sunday evening, the captain ordered all passengers to remain in their cabins for the rest of the cruise.

The next day, March 16, 17 more crew members from Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Costa Rica, Indonesia and India were isolated, all citing “contact with guest,” or roommates of those who had contact.

The logs, handed out to the ship’s staff on Tuesday, designate 33 passengers from 11 different countries as sick, including one person from the U.S. Seventeen more people are marked as roommates of those who are sick.

The pace with which illness — COVID-19 or otherwise — swept through the ship mirrors findings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers face “increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases” on cruise ships.

The CDC’s initial analysis of the February quarantine of the Diamond Princess released Wednesday found that the virus spread quickly among food-service employees who continued to work throughout the ship while passengers were kept in their cabins. That quarantine left more than 700 people infected with COVID-19; eight people later died of the disease.

Costa Luminosa passengers from Miami, Kelly and Woody Edge, both in their 60s, are among the healthy, outside of slight coughs and runny noses. Kelly said they are anxious to get off the ship and back to South Florida, even though they know a 14-day self-isolation awaits them, as mandated by new CDC guidelines for cruisers.

“There is something crazy about going home, but there is something comforting about the crazy you know,” Kelly said.

This is Kelly’s 35th cruise, she said, and her first with Costa Cruises. Before boarding in Fort Lauderdale on March 5, she thought the cruise would be canceled given the new coronavirus outbreak.

“I kept thinking they’re going to cancel this, they have to cancel this,” she said. The couple had planned the cruise five months in advance and decided to go because the company wasn’t offering refunds.

If asked by French authorities, she said she will fess up about the cough and the runny nose.

“Almost everybody has a little bit of a cough and a sniffle,” she said. “We’re not sure if that is going to cause any kinks. The last thing we would want to do is bring this virus home.”

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